Monday, September 10, 2012

Cascade Crest 100 Race Report

That's a Glenn Tachiama photo!  I'm in the green shirt with the white hat.
Wow.. This was a weekend I hope to never forget!  My third 100 mile race, and the most difficult as far as terrain and elevation.  Why?
This is a good opportunity to bring some of you up to speed on how 'Ultra' running started in the first place, how it keeps going, and why people like me keep subjecting ourselves to the punishment.
Well, of course, running messangers ran distances up to hundreds of miles for thousands of years.  Life has gotten a lot easier in the last couple of centuries, and gradually a few paper pushing office workers have just gotten fed up with the lack of physical punishment dealt by modern life.  And so it happened:  A few decades ago, a group of friends were looking for ways to stay healthy and started jogging.  Complete with super tiny shorts and striped tube socks they started pounding the pavement.  5k races led to 10k races, then eventually the impossible... full marathons!  Typical conversation involved the most risky place to take care of the inevitable gastrointestinal distress, and areas of the body most suceptible to severe chaffing.  But still they yearned for more!  One evening, after several too many 'refreshments' one friend we'll call ' Bob' mentioned that he'd like to see if he was even capable of running after not sleeping all night, 'Mike' excitedly added that he'd always wondered if it was possible to run after his big toes had blistered and were the size of golf balls.  'Joe' explained that regular running was just too much fun, and he wanted to see how he liked it after everything in his body ached and screamed for him to stop.  'Kevin' opined that women loved a sweaty, exhausted, delerious guy, and the scent of a man after running for hours was like a pheremone that would attract hundreds.  A plan was put in place:  To run 100 miles on country roads.  All the discomfort and much more was properly enjoyed, and the concept was added to.  If 100 miles on roads was so awesome, why not do it on trails?  10,000' of climbing not enough?  Let's try 20,000!  A normal mountain trail not keeping your blood pressure up?  Let's run that trail right on the edge of a massive cliff.. you know, the one that any hiker straight out of REI would think twice about?!  Now let's do that at night, after legs are wobbly from 80 miles of toiling hopelessly.  Sound like a plan?  That's basically what a 100 mile race is.  It's an absurd distance, difficult to imagine doing, even if you've done it before.  Challenges are guaranteed, and that's part of the attraction.  Life these days is sometimes too easy, and some of us look for serious physical challenges, just to 'see if we can'.  That explains doing one of these things.  Why do we keep coming back for more?  Fame and glory of course!  But mostly because our memories are so short.  Those five hours spent stumbling around the mountains at night swearing you'd never do one of these things again?  Forgotten.  The fact the feet were so wrecked that shoes barely slipped on, and walking was a painful process for a week?  Covered up by dreams of hitting it rich as Americas New Ultra Sensation!
Cascade Crest 100 is a tough race.  You can see that on paper.  100 miles, 20,400' of climbing, and trails that have earned nicknames like 'Trail From Hell'.  Training was slightly substandard due to a recently tweaked knee, confidence was a little low due to a not-so-smooth White River 50mile run, but I figured I could give this one a good shot.  Typical times were about two hours slower than those at the San Diego 100 I ran in June, so I figured a top 10, and time of about 22 hours was probably a good bet.  I built a 'pace chart' based on some faster runners time at the various aid stations, and when I added up it came to 20:15 for a really best case scenario (6:15am finish).  I figured I'd run smoothly but not necessarily slowly, accept the parts that were slow by necessity, and hit it hard in several key areas.  Hey, what better way to spend a four day weekend than being nervous, packing, and driving on Friday, running all day Saturday, all night, and into Sunday morning, and then spending the rest of the time curled into the fetal position whimpering in agony!  Can you believe my wife puts up with this nonsense?  Game on!
Even though we stayed in a really nice condo, the fact it was my kids first time in a bunk bed conspired to guarantee a night that lacked restfull sleep.  Who needs it anyway?  Saturday dawned beautiful and warm, and I thanked the Race Director for the 10am start, even if that guaranteed I would run all night.  An hour or so of nervous hanging around near the start, the national anthems of the US and Canada, and all of a sudden we were off.  An adventure had begun!
I put myself in a small chase group that held positions 6-9, and we worked together during the first big climbs up Goat Peak and beyond.  As you can imagine, the views were absolutely spectacular, and I paused a few times to take in the panoramas.  Eventually I pulled ahead of our group and firmed up a grip on sixth place.  After about 20 miles of steep climbs and descents we entered an amazing forrest with smooth cushy downhill single track.  I was riding a high and running fast as I heard the clicking of Glenn's camera:

Many more miles of amazing single track followed (Pacific Crest Trail from mile 17 to mile 40-something).  A lot of this was slow going, and I fell about 15 minutes behind my split chart.   I did pass the fifth place runner at mile 28.  He was complaining of stomach problems, and he quickly disappeared behind me.  After a tough descent that included a section of ropes going straight down the side of the mountain the course popped out on a smooth gravel road, that led into a 2-3 mile old train tunnel.  This section was flat, and it was one of my pre-planned 'go fast' parts.  I hammered down.  A flicker of light ahead in the tunnel.  And again.. I was catching up to fourth place!  A tiny figure exiting the tunnel 1/4 mile ahead.  I passed Josh Arthur soon after, and he was complaining of achilles pain.  Fourth into the 53 mile aid.  I grabbed my powerful lights and my night time mountain ultra gear (jacket shell, hat, gloves), and Shawna Tompkins (who had dropped due to lack of interest and to crew for her husband, Joe, who was running his fifth CCC) helped me out with some good advice on the next section.
After a long gravel road climb I topped out at 60 miles.  On the way up some campers asked how far I had come.  I think the fact I was smiling and in good spirits as I yelled back '60 miles!' was dumbfounding to them as they immediately went back to their cigarettes and Ranier Light.  The third place runner was shivering in a chair at the aid station just around the next corner.  Nothing I could say could convince him to get up, so I was outta there after a cup of delicious vegan soup made by Adam Hewey!  Now for eight miles downhill.  Another key section.  I cranked the tunes and cruised downhill.  At one point I was sure I saw a light behind me and I hammered down the hill.  Later I figured it was the moon shining through the trees, but the result was I got back on my splits and ran an amazing eight miles in one hour (ok, it was downhill, but I couldn't believe how my body responded).  Coke (the drink) and more soup at mile 68 and it was off to the 'Trail From Hell'!  Apparently this part has been cleaned up some, and is a bit faster than in years past, but it is a five mile section of difficult and sometimes dangerous trail, and I took Jeff Brownings plan from a couple of years ago, and vowed to run everything I could.  Best case through this section was 1:30.  I happened to hit that exactly.  It was fun running, and this trail was marked exceptionally well with reflective tape.  People had gotten imaginative and stapled reflective tape in the shape of smiley faces and other things.  Doesn't take much to keep a runner interested after 14 hours and 70 miles!  I finally saw a light ahead and quickly caught and passed Phil Shaw (a previous winner on this course, and on his ninth running).  Second place into Mineral Creek Aid at 73 miles.  Terry Sentinella  and crew were surprised to see me so soon (12:15am), but we got refuelled and Terry (who had agreed to run with me as a pacer) and I pushed out for the final 'marathon'.  I knew this last part would probably take me seven hours, and I knew it would be the hardest part of the course.  Terry helped to keep me on point, even after my stomach finally 'rejected' Gu after I tried to cram my 50th down the hatch.  We even took a minute to turn our lights off and gaze at the amazing stars in a night sky devoid of light pollution.  You gotta take moments to appreciate the amazing places you're moving through.. otherwise what's the point!?
Steep climbs followed by steep descents, and then finally up Thorpe Mountain for a little 'out and back'.  At the bottom of the 'back' section we passed a pair of runners going up and figured we had a 15 minute lead on third.  They looked motivated though, and I tried to put a bit more pep in the step.  More climbs, and then we began a long descent.  I had hoped that I might be able to make time on this section, but it just seemed so difficult, and I couldn't get much momentum going.  We began crossing little streams, and the trail remained hazardous in parts.  Terry kept crashing to the ground behind me, his legs tired from a good effort at Trans Rockies the week before.  What a crew!  Suddenly Josh (from earlier) came zooming by with his pacer.  Apparently the achilles was fixed, and there was no keeping up with them.  Bummer!  The final flat miles went by quickly, and pretty soon we were on roads leading through Easton to the finish.  My family drove up at the exact time as I approached the finish line.. talk about icing on the cake!  Third place in 20:13:54.  Tenth fastest time ever run at Cascade Crest (in 14 years).  One minute faster than my predicted 'best possible' finish.
Props go to Jeremy Humphrey, who won in 18:31.  He was well ahead of course record pace all day, but someone took course markings down near the end and he ended up getting a little lost, missing CR by five minutes.  Amazing run from a guy who has nothing in his record to suggest he could do it, and who had never set foot on the course (the previous and current course record holders had extensive experience on course).  Also great work to Josh Arthur, who credits Vitimin I for taking his achilles pain away and allowing him to pull ahead of me by just under six minutes and claim second place. 
I couldn't have done this without the support of my family.  Huge thanks go to my amazing and beautiful wife!  There is NOTHING better than seeing them at the finish line!  Although I do my best to minimize the negative impact running has on our family time, there are certainly times that I have to do a long run on a weekend, and she is left with the kids (again).  That's the harder job no doubt about it.  I do hope that this crazy stuff teaches my kids something about the value hard work and determination (although I never expect them to run Ultras).
What's next?  I have to run the 3:15 pace group for the Skagit Flats Marathon... update... that's done.  Then take a bit of time off, and head into a couple of Fall/Winter 50k type races.  No more 100's until next year.  I sure would like to crack 20 at Cascade Crest though, and I believe I can do that now!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Daily Affirmations

Well, here we go again!  My third 100 mile race is in just three days.  Am I ready?  No.  The several weeks since White River 50 Mile have been pretty mellow.  50 miles a week, and a longest run of 2:20.  I could go on and on with reasons why this might not go my way, but what good would that do?  These things are very mental anyway, and I can't change where I am with my fitness, so here are some daily affirmations:

- Although lacking the really 'big' weeks, I've been consistently around 60 miles per week for a very long time (with a few weeks topping 80).  This is probably better than taking a bunch of down time from injury, and then ramping up to 100+

- Experience is my friend.  Sure, many Ultra guys and gals have much more than me, but I like to run smart, and try to take lessons from each big run or race.  San Diego 100 was just a couple of months ago, so I think those lessons are pretty fresh in my head.

-Nutrition.  These things are run on strong legs and a strong stomach.  I have been practicing my ability to take gels every 20 minutes.  It's not enough to keep up with the calories going out, but it's more than most people take in, and that's going to help me keep a positive mental energy all day.

The plan will be to go out fast enough to avoid getting stuck in traffic on the first climb.  From there I'm going to try to keep up a good pace and put the miles in before dark (this one starts pretty late in the day at 10am).  I'm going to respect the heat and the climbs, and try to be mentally ready to capitalize on the flat and downs.  I'm going to really try to run hard on the 'Trail From Hell' (where people often take two hours to cover five miles), crush the smooth gravel road climbs, before and after the Trail From Hell, hang on on the Cardiac Needles section, and then hopefully have enough to run strong on the steep descents to in the final 10 miles to the finish.

My beautiful Mishelle, and our sweet boys will be out there to see me start, finish, and even watch me come through the mile 23 aid.  This is enough motivation for me to keep a smile on my face, and run as hard as I can.  Terry Sentinella will be pacing me for the last 27 miles, and this guy knows the course, and knows how to run a good 100.  Hopefully I can listen to him after 18 hours on the trail!

100 miles and over 20,000' of climbing.  Cascade Crest 100 here we come!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Shell Sharks rip Ragnar to pieces and White River 50 Race Report

Alright, just a quick recap of a couple weekends-worth of awesome PNW racing!
First Ragnar Northwest Passage.  The route was extended by about a dozen miles to make it an even 200.  Divided by 12 that's not too bad (three legs each, separated by about 8 hours), but it made it awefully hard for us to have a shot at 24 hours.  25 was the new goal, and Van 1 started late on Friday.  Our Van 2 Crew assembled, and revealed James' awesome creation... A giant shark bust mounted on top of our borrowed van!  Going for the 'Pimped Out Van Award' again, and there was no doubt that we would be on top of that podium.
Training for this race basically consisted of recovering from the San Diego 100, running a couple of good weeks, and a week of road running.  Almost no 'speed work' as a road runner, but a couple of faster 10-14 mile runs left me feeling like I still had pretty good wheels.
My first leg was through the town of Bellingham.  Within 200 feet of starting I needed to pause at a cross-walk.  Then I blasted right through downtown (and it was full of busy traffic), pausing at intersections, and wondering if I was off course.  First mile was a 6:15.  Second was a 5:45... and then I hit a train track right as a train arrived.  Great.  There was no coming back from that, as the next section was a 500 foot climb, and I even managed to lose a few seconds getting confused at an intersection.  Passed (Shell Sharked) one runner right at the end.  The rest of the Van 2 Crew put on good strong legs, and we finished up late at night.  A short nap on the gym floor of a high school, and I was standing at the start of my next leg at 2:30 am.  Strange.  A fast runner took off about two minutes up on me, so when I took over I had a tail light to follow in the dark.  My mission was to catch that guy!  I was on him within a mile, and passed at the bottom of a pretty good climb.  He ran on my shoulder for almost eight miles before re-passing me near the finish.  Turns out he is a local Cross Country and Track star, and has a scholarship to run for a big school out east.  He finished infront, but not by as much as he started.  Here's to 37 being the new 25!  The last leg was more of the same, but during the day.  Another tougher leg with a 6:13 average pace.    We were catching hundreds of slower runners, and having a blast. 
Great job to all the other runners on our team, and especially to James for leading the whole show and building that massive shark!  I think just about everyone was running above their expectations.  Neat how the mind can turn it on when it's a race, and when you have teammates who are also working hard!
 End result was a win in our division (Mixed Corporate), a 24:30 finish time, and a win for the Pimped Out Van.  GREAT TIME!!

The very next week was the awesome White River 50 mile trail race.  This includes over 9000 feet of climbing (and obviously the same descent) over two large mountains near Mt Ranier. A great training run for a 100 mile race that has over 20,000 feet of climb!  I ran this two years ago in a time of 9:22.  My goal this time was to go under 8:00, and to run 7:30 if I felt great.  Unfortunately my legs felt just a bit dead all week, probably from Ragnar, and I even  managed to twist my knee jumping around some mud on an easy run.  Great.  I took a relaxed 'we'll see' attitude, enjoyed time hanging out with my good friends Reed and Dana.  This was the biggest field for this race, and there were some elites.  Most notably Ellie Greenwood (who just won Western States 100 in a course record time) and Sage Canaday (super fast marathon runner just transitioning to trails).  Thumbs up.. let's do this!  Leerooooy Jenkins!!
The race started like a track meet, and even with a first mile well under seven minutes the leaders were out of sight.  I took it easy up the first climb, never feeling really peppy, just hoping to feel it at some point.  Unfortunately I was conserving gels, and I think that this really affected my race.  I'm sold on the 'one gel every 20 minutes'.  This plan just works if you want to run harder, but the gels I ordered didn't show up in time, so I was down to 12 for the whole race! 

Descending the first mountain I really jammed my right ankle, and I just couldn't run down hill fast.  The second big climb up to Sun Top (mile 37) was not great.  I felt sluggish, and had no motivation to put the power down and suffer a bit.  To make matters worse that ankle was killing every time I broke out of the hike and tried to run.  What a bummer!  All day the views of the surrounding mountains, Mt Ranier in particular, were just stunning.  Out of this world.  Wild flowers of every color surrounded me, and being immersed in this natural beauty was a very special thing.  This is part of the reason I love to do this stuff, and I just enjoyed the steep hike, somehow still managing to cover five miles per hour.

A quick stop at Sun Top, and down the gravel road to Skookum Flats.  This descent killed me last time, and I was expecting worse with my ankle.  Strangely the pain went away when I started running faster.  I locked in a seven minute mile on my gps in order to conserve the quads, but still make good time (a fast finish was already out of the question).  Next was the Flats. The Flats are not so flat.  The last 6.6 miles are a twisy, rooty, trail that runs near the White River.  Plenty of little steepish climbs also.  Many many people falter here, but it's got the potential to be a really nice part of the run.  My energy was coming in waves, so I cranked some tunes and got to work.  After a couple of gels (that I should have eaten earlier) I started to feel just great, and absolutely hammered the last mile or so.  How is that possible after running for eight hours?  No idea, but it was nice to finish a kinda lackluster day (energy wise) feeling like that.  8:07 was the final time.  Not too far off the mark.  19th overall, out of 315 starters, and 275 finishers.  Sage Canaday set the course on fire.  He treated it like a 10k, and ran 6:16.  A course record, and almost 10 minutes faster than Anton Krupicka two years ago!  Although I don't think I could ever get there, and certainly this wasn't a focus race for me this time, it's great to see what's possible.  Never limit yourself!

I really enjoyed hanging out that afternoon, relaxing, and watching the finishers come in.  I plan on coming back for that sub-eight finish!  Mabye it will be another Ragnar-White River double next year!

So next up is the Cascade Crest 100.   Working to my advantage is the fact that I've done a 100 already this year, my running base is pretty big, I've got some faster runs in (indeed, I'm faster than ever), and I completed a great training run with the WR50.  I feel my body recovering nicely after a few days of funk, and I'm ready to put down a few good fast runs prior to a nice easy taper week.  Anything is possible right?  100 miles is a totally different journey, and even though I did one recently, it still seems impossibly far to travel in the mountains in one day (or hopefully a bit less)!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

San Diego 100 Race Report. Gu's, Lions, and Rattlers!

The beautiful Al Bahr Lodge near Laguna Mountain
So my brother and I were discussing the merits of going on an all 'Gu' diet recently.  Since I consumed around 40 Gu energy gel's at this race, I think I've prepped my system for the switch!  Imagine how quick breakfast will be now; no need to make coffee, just pop two or three Gu's with caffeine on the drive to work!  No more tough decisions on what's for dinner; everyone picks from one of the two or three flavors that have no caffeine!  Snack bags will get smaller too, and lastly, think how easy it will be to maintain a vegan diet!  If the family wants a real treat we can spread a banana flavored Gu on bread, or drizzle a mint chocolate flavored Gu on soy ice cream!  I will have to get sponsored by Gu to pull this off, because at a buck a piece the cost can add up pretty quickly.  Small details!

I could go on all day about training, diet,  and all that junk, but I'm not going to.  I ran some every week, long, short, fast, slow, trail, road etc.  A couple of weeks were in the low 70 mile range, but I probably averaged around 60.  Definitely a little under trained, but more or less healthy and uninjured at the start line, and that counts for a lot in this game.  I wished I had at least one 50 mile weekend, or 50 mile race in the last couple of months, but my biggest distance was several 31 mile races in the last few months, culminating in a second place showing at Sun Mountain 50k.
The Friday trip down to San Diego was uneventful, and I had time to meet up with friends Bill and his wife Jennifer.  Bill agreed to crew for me and his wife, and it was a huge mental relief to know that someone who knew me would be out there to support if I needed it.  The generosity and enthusiasm they showed was second to none, and I am lucky to know such great people!  From there I drove out to the start/finish area about an hour drive east of San Diego near Laguna Mountain, checked in, enjoyed a good pasta and salad pre-race dinner, and just soaked up the views.  What a spectacular area!
Back at my hotel in San Diego I was in bed before 9pm, with the alarm set for 4:30am.  Surprisingly I got a great night's sleep, and woke up pretty refreshed.  The drive east was beautiful as the sun was rising, and I just concentrated on keeping my nerves down and trying to relax.  Before I knew it I was lined up near the front of 193 runners ready to participate in a huge adventure.  Let's face it, it doesn't matter how many people  run these distances, or how many times a person has run one, it's going to be a test, and it's just hard to visualize the distance.  The only way to do it is to put one foot in front of the other, and focus on whatever is directly ahead, like the next climb, or descent, or just the next turn in the trail.
0-23miles-ish.  This race was stacked with talent on the men's side.  Jeff Browning, Luke Nelson, Dan Olmstead, Adam Hewey, Fabrice Hardel, and a few others that could easily win.  The women's side was easier to pick, with Shawna Tompkins the easy favorite, and capable of beating anybody in the race.  I took off near the leaders, but allowed about 10 or 12 people to run out front, figuring some would come back to me, and others, well, anything could happen!  This was beautiful running.  The feeling of having a strong body, a high level of fitness, running smoothly over rolling mountain trails (mostly around 5000-6000 feet elevation), beautiful meadows, forests, incredible mountain vistas, wild flowers, boulders, and so much more.  What a feeling!  My plan was to run these easy miles conservatively, but not slowly.  I didn't want to waste the cooler morning temperatures, and the easy terrain.  I was in the zone, and cruised at an 8-9 min mile pace, barely breaking a sweat, even at this altitude.

23-50.  Canyons and climbs!  Nobel Canyon was where it got a bit hot, but I enjoyed the change of scenery, and concentrated on good hydration, and keeping my core temperature in check.  There were several creek crossings, and I dunked my hat in every one.  The fun level came down off the pegged side of the gauge, but overall I still felt pretty smooth, and rolled into mile 31 in a touch over five hours.   Solid.  Here came the part we had been warned about:  A hot four mile loop consisting of a solid climb, and then a six mile climb (the first two of which were on a paved road) all exposed.  My plan was to stay way ahead of my temperature and back off if I even thought I was getting hot.  It seemed to be working as I blew past one of the favorites, Luke Nelson,  around mile 33.  He was complaining of the heat, and I didn't even feel it!  That put me in fifth overall, and I started contemplating racing.  Too early!  The following big climb felt ok, the highlights being a wonderful volunteer half way up with cold water and ice, and a little further up the road a guy handing out popsicles!  As I left the aid station at mile 43 a man recording race numbers said  "Go for it Fabrice! Oh, you're not Fabrice, you're ahead of him.. GO GO GO!!".  Sweet, I was in fourth place, and I used a powerful tail wind to help me run the next climb.  I hit the 51 mile mark in nine hours flat.  27 gel's down (I was taking one every 20 minutes)!  Yummy!

Great photo by Glen Tachiyama!

51-73  Although I never hit serious mental downs, the fun was about over at this point, and it was time to get to work.  The sun was still sitting on my shoulder, there were solid climbs, treacherous footing in places, and I kept kicking rocks.  Several I kicked so hard that I felt my toenails separate painfully.  Some runners change shoes and socks during the race.. no way I was even going to peek under those socks!  I was offered a quesadilla at mile 59, but no way that was happening... all Gu baby!  A highlight was coming off a big climb to mile 62, and then descending to an aid station at mile 64.  I flew down that mountain, and amused the aid station volunteers (and Bill and my friend Joe who was preparing to pace his wife Shawna and had been helping me as I came through aids) by letting out a big YEEEHAW!  To run 64 miles and still feel pretty strong is amazing!  Strong legs, no joint pain, just some chafing, and broken toenails.  I was out of there, and pushed on into the evening, foolishly slowing a bit to conserve.  Looking back I should have pushed those miles hard to minimize night time running.  The lights came on at mile 73, and I started substituting drink mix for gels, as I could barely open a pack without gagging!  Oh, and as I ran out of the mile 73 aid, a runner and his pacer came in. 

73-Finish.  Night moves.  My night running blows.  Stumble, fumble, and trip!  Lights behind getting closer.  Cold moving in.  Heavy dark mountains all around, amazing stars, my world huge, but at the same time confined to a 20 foot stretch of trail in my lights.  I would crank the tunes until they made me sick, and then enjoy the silence of the wilderness.  Near mile 80 I got passed and dropped to fifth.  Kind of a bummer, but I had no race left in me.  The 'Sunrise' aid station at mile 81 was something to behold.  RV's, lights, heaters, a buffet table of food, music, even a guy making soup in a chef's outfit!  What a class act (as were all of the aid stations).  Bill was working hard trying to get me dressed for the cold, and the wind was absolutely HOWLING up there.  I insisted that I didn't need much as I was sweating, but a minute later started uncontrollable shivering, and unpacked my jacket shell.  Out of there!  Mice running down the trail, Owls zooming overhead, screaming wind, stop to pee, turn to look for lights, adjust iPod, kick a rock, hike a climb, why am I barely going four miles per hour?!  I didn't really go too far in my head, just pushed any bad thoughts to the back, and concentrated on what was directly in front of me.  Finally 'Rat Hole' aid station at mile 96+.  Almost there.  Very cold; frost was on the ground.  Hands kind of stinging?  Wow... fingers  swollen like sausages!  Strange to see in the light of the head lamp.  Stumble, fumble, and trip.  This should be fast running, but I just didn't care anymore.  I figure those lights I saw behind me were probably Shawna, but they weren't getting closer, and my legs still felt strong enough to race if she got close enough that I had to.  Amazing that what was slowing me down was mental exhaustion diminishing my ability to place my feet safely on the trail without tripping.  My legs were actually strong and still pain free (mostly)!  I was able to hike hard, but my running was a slow jog.  Finally I arrived at the large campground complex where the finish was located, and the run through this was the final torture.  I was walking anything that even pretended to have an incline, and most of the flats.  Done!  A very solid 20:22 for fifth place.  Humbled seeing that Jeff Browning owned the course in an astounding 16:39!  I won my 30-39 age group... because all four runners ahead of me were 40 years old and older (there is hope!).  I crawled into my sleeping bag on the floor of the lodge as the full-body agony set in.  I'm pretty sure I looked and acted like an addict withdrawing from a serious high.
I don't know what pushes people to do these things.  I don't even know for certain what pushes me to do them, but let's not over complicate things, it's just running.  One foot in front of another, just for a long time, over rough terrain.  It breaks you down, mentally and physically.  You get to catch a glimpse of what you're made of.  Not all of it, just enough to make you come back for more.  As amazing as it is to admire the finish time of a 'fast guy', it's just as inspirational to watch people cross the finish line many hours later.  The human spirit is an incredible thing to see, and these events give you front row tickets!  I think that modern life is becoming less and less physically demanding, and that basic human nature thrives off a certain amount of adversity.  If we don't have it in our 'regular' lives, some of us seek it out, or create it, as a way to experience certain fulfillment.  Is that selfish?  Perhaps, but I also see it as a gift to our kids and the people around us.  I want them to see what's possible.  I want my friends and others to see what's possible, and to get out there and do something with that powerful spirit that exists in all of us (and it sure doesn't have to include running for 10, 20, or 30 hours)!

What worked and what didn't? 

1.  Well, it's pretty clear that you don't need to log mega miles every week to run a successful 100.  I topped out at 70+, but the average was in the 60 range.  I ran conservative 50k races every month or so, and those counted as my 'long' runs.  Other runners top out well over 100 miles per week, and log many 50+ mile weekends. 

2.  Nutrition.  Gu's every 20 minutes straight up works.  That plan kept me strong until very late in the race.  At that point I became a little over hydrated, and that contributed to some nausea that prevented me from eating.  At that point I switched to a mild tasting carbohydrate drink powder made by Hammer.  That stuff is also great (a sandwich in every scoop), but since I was now drinking my calories I continued to over hydrate.  I ended up stopping to pee every mile, and the swelling in my hands was a concern.  Next time I need to remember to adjust as the temperature cools, and if I'm running on calories in a drink, to mix it somewhat more concentrated (100 calories per 8oz instead of 100 per 20oz like I was doing).

3.  Hoka shoes.  Great padding helped to protect my legs and joints, but the shoes I wore were slightly too small, and I did great damage to my toes from striking rocks.

4.  Race strategy.  Overall solid.  I would tweak it a bit by going just a touch faster during the hot part.  I was a bit too conservative, and I really need to minimize time running at night.

The recovery is going great as I write this.  Amazingly the aches and pains disappeared after a day, and by the time I got home Monday evening I was able to bound up the stairs.  The hurt toes are the only sticking point, but honestly, it feels good to take a few days off from training.

What's next?  Hard to contemplate.  I'm on the wait list for the Cascade Crest 100.  I'm pretty strong, came out of this uninjured, and I think with some tweaking I can get a top result, but I can't imagine running 100 miles!

One disappointment was that I had heard there were mountain lions in the area we were running, and I had planned to take one out if it tackled me.  That didn't happen, so no neat ornaments for my house.  At a minimum I figured a rattler would make the mistake of striking at me.  No such luck.  All I saw was lizards, mice, deer, and an owl.

Oh, and that Gu diet plan?  Ya, right now I never want to see another Gu as long as I live!
The aftermath...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

San Diego 100 Pre Race

Well, in a weeks time I'll be on the trails near San Diego for a huge adventure!  The San Diego 100 is the culmination of six months of training, one trail marathon, and four 50k trail races.  Let's face it, for someone who doesn't run these things all the time (this is only my second crack at the distance, and the last time was a year ago), there is an enormous sense of unknown.  In a marathon, 50k, or even 50 mile race, the nervousness for me centers around living up to my expectations.  Although I have goals for this race, the truth is that I have no idea what will happen!
I'm excited, and a little nervous thinking about this.  My mind is spinning with plans for everything from what to wear, to what type of lights to carry at night, to how to pace myself in the early miles in order to get the maximum out of my body.
I've had my ups and downs in training, from a couple of minor sicknesses (one happening right now), to lack of trails in Italy during a five week detachment.  Overall I think I'm in a pretty solid place, I just came off a strong second place finish at the Sun Mountain 50k, and a week later was running training runs at near PR pace.  No big back-to-back training runs like so many people do, and no 50 mile or 100 kilometer races under my belt.  I've averaged 60 miles per week this entire last year, and this cycle topped out at just under 80.  More than some, but less than the 'elites' seem to do.  Will that hold me back?  Too late to say!  Last year I ran a tough series of races, including a 50 miler, in the weeks leading up to the Mohican 100.  Although I came in third overall, my legs were shot, and my right knee was hurting so badly I could barely bend my leg.  Perhaps my focus on good recovery and solid race nutrition will have me running strong all the way!
The plan is to run smoothly and conservatively at first, then see what's left at the end.  If I can get through 50 miles in less than nine hours feeling 'good', then cover the last 50 in around 11 hours, I'll have a finish that will be close to the front.  No racing the rabbits at first, but no walking either, just confidence in my ability to run steady all day, and then FOCUS on execution every mile of the way.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sun Mountain 50k 2012 Race Report

So my last post talked about a great run in Sicily.  Following that run I was able to get in a couple of good weeks of running that included back to back 15's on trails/narrow jeep roads servicing hundreds of acres of beautiful orange groves near base in Sigonella.  The real question mark for me was a couple of weeks of road biking.  Riding with my friend Eric, and the Italians from a nearby cycling club is worthy of its own blog, but for the purpose of running I really wonder what the effect is on overall running fitness.  Does a 100 mile ride with 7000' of climing equal a tough 20 mile trail run?  Am I gaining cardio while freshening up my running legs?  These questions have been asked, and I'm sure the answers are different for everyone, or even for a single person at different times.  I have no clue, but I tried to balance it as best I could while making the most of the opportunity to tour parts of Sicily (and Germany and Crete) that I could never reach by foot. 
Devil on my shoulder:  "This is poor training, you'll never be ready to run well at Sun Mountain let alone San Diego 100!"
Me:  "Don't worry about it, cross-training can be good, and you've been consistently running 50-70 miles per week for about the last year!"
My decision to run Sun Mountain was made when I looked for a convenient training race for the San Diego 100 that is coming up on June 9th (just three weeks).  When my brother Tim and his girlfriend Morgan decided to run with me as part of a vacation it became a real event (Tim's first ultra!); much more than a training run, and something I've been really excited for for months!  My original plan to run 50 miles was couched by logistics, and I decided that perhaps 50k/31 miles might give me the desired training effect while saving the legs from some pounding and allowing quicker recovery.  Again.. always second guessing my training!
I lined up near the front after wishing Tim and Morgan luck, and before I knew it we were off.  The first mile closed in just about 6:30, and I was running behind several people who were getting smaller and smaller in the distance!  I decided I'd have to settle into my pace and see what happened in a couple of hours (Devil:  "No way you can hang at the front with guys this fast").  I was running slightly conservatively in order to guarantee a quicker recovery.  No reason to waste myself running an easier 50k just three weeks prior to my goal race.  I felt like I was doing a good job getting calories (gu) every 20 minutes, and the first 15 miles kind of flew by in about two hours flat.  This section was mostly smooth, some climbing, but not too steep, and quite a few miles on double-track, or smooth gravel roads.  At the halfway aid station I was told I was in second place, just a couple of minutes behind first.  Just at that point Gary Robins rolled into the aid about one minute behind me.  I skeedadled, but tried to keep it smooth, figuring that Gary had probably been catching me, and if he was much faster I'd just be wasting my energy trying to hold him off with a surge.  This part of the course was my favorite.  Beautiful single-track through forest land, interspersed with openings that showed off amazing views, and fields of wild-flowers.  Hey, if I'm going to do this/torture myself I'm going to take a minute to enjoy the places I'm running through, even if it risks tripping and falling off a mountain!  Next came a steep climb of perhaps 500' up Sun Mountain.  The climb was exposed, and soon I was able to see Gary below me, just about one minute behind.  After the descent, at about mile 20, I looked back, and there he was just 100 yards back.  And then I ate dirt.  By the time I'd collected myself and got my rythm back Gary passed.  Now, I didn't have any real low points in the entire race, but I was kind of waiting for one to appear.  I wondered who else was there ready to knock me off the 'podium'.  I sucked down a gel, and actually felt fine, keeping up with Gary, and even running stronger in places. 

"Just let him go, you're going to start feeling really tired here in a minute, no reason to try to hang with this guy."
"Well, I'm feeling ok now, so let's not let him get too far up the road.. there, we actually closed that gap!"
"You're never going to hang in there when this guy puts the hammer down."
"Gary just ran a 112k race last weekend.. I think he's probably got some dead legs."
"Watch him smoke us on the little road section leading to the last climb up Patterson."
"Did I just put 10 seconds on him on the road, and did he seem reluctant to leave that aid?"

We left the last aid with six miles to go together, and Gary led up the big climb at Patterson.  First place was coming down the hill as we neared the top, about five minutes ahead of us, so it didn't look likely we could catch him.  The battle was for second/third.  I felt stronger in places, and planned to pass on the way down... but Gary took off like a gazelle.  I just tried to stay close, and actually had a great time on this exposed hillside.  I didn't worry too much about the end results, and figured I'd duke it out in the final mile.  It could have been hot, but instead cloud cover and even a light misting kept the temps down.  Perfect for me!  We popped off the mountain and crossed the road to jump back on single-track for the final uphill mile.  I wondered if I'd have the mental power to will my dead legs to run fast enough to challenge for second place, but all of a sudden Gary seemed to slow quite dramatically, so I passed, concentrated on quick legs for a minute, and then glanced back to see... nothing.  At least 30 seconds lead, head down and back to work.  This section is longer than it seems like it should be.  I could smell the barn, but there always seemed to be another hill, or another corner, but no finish line!  Well, finally it arrived in four hours and eleven minutes, about four minutes behind first, and two minutes ahead of Gary in third.  The fact is Gary Robins spent all of last year with a broken foot, and although he's worked back into good fitness, he raced a 110k in Spain just a week prior to this one.  I guess we probably need a rematch, and since he's the course record holder at the HURT 100 in Hawaii, and we're moving there in less than a year, I might get my chance!
Morgan finished the 25k in just over three hours, a time almost an hour faster than her goal!  Tim ran a steller first ultra on limited training.  He was just one hour behind me, and in 15th place.  I couldn't be prouder of him! 
This is a shot of me (in yellow)chasing down the hill with about two miles to go, taken by Joe Tompkins.

The big downer of the weekend was that my beautiful wife and my three boys couldn't come join us for the weekend.  Thanks go to her for holding down the fort again!  We'll go back to Winthrop for a family weekend soon!

Also thanks to James and Candice, and all volunteers.  I've run four 50k's since December, and they've all been Rainshadow Running races.  Each one has been on unique terrain, but the constant has been the class act race-directing.  Perfectly marked courses, great food and refreshments during and after, well organized, and well attended. 
Now it's on to the last three weeks of training and tapering before the San Diego 100.  Am I ready?  No.  I wish I had a 50 mile run on my legs in the last month, but there is nothing I can do now.  We'll just have to see!  I'm going to give it everything.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Monte Etna Adventure: A Great Run!!

Training through difficult times is really what separates the men and women in this sport from the more sensible members of our population!  When it's pouring with rain, or blowing a gale, we know we probably have to suck it up and get out there.  Sure, I'll check my running log to see if I can muster up an excuse to be a weak and worthless loser, but most of the time it reveals that I have to hit the road or live with the consequences (which are mostly just fear of being a weak and worthless loser!).

This year has brought plenty of challenges.  January second our newest family addition, Griffin, was born.  Just like the first two, it's safe to say our lives will never be the same!  Balancing the running with family life is always tough, but with two little boys (engaged in a methodical attempt to drive all adult caretakers out of their minds), and a newborn, it's even tougher.  I ran the day after Griffin was born... at 11pm.  Two miles and then 7 repeats up and down a nearby hill.

Although winter on Whidbey Island is a challenging environment to run in, keeping a consistent schedule while on detachment to Italy is even tougher.  First it was terrible jet lag (9 hours worth) leaving me feeling aweful for four days, then it was the every-other-day flight schedule, and on top of that it's the lack of trails coupled with terrible roads to run on.  The Italian drivers have good situational awareness (much better than in the U.S.), but there are typically no shoulders, and very sharp weeds hang way out into the roads.  Towns are steep and cobbled with lots of traffic, and no sidewalks, and there are stray rabid dogs waiting to chomp the leg of Lost Looking Americans. 
While pondering my running misfortune I realized that, despite the inconvenience, I can still run.  My brother spends two weeks on a tug boat every month, and he manages to run quite often.  I'm sure that the ports around New York harbor aren't exactly convenient running locales!  So I got back in it.  Round and round the base (1.5 miles), round and round the .2 mile track.  Treadmill intervals.  Treadmill progressives.  Then I had an idea... has anyone ever run from Sigonella to the top of the paved road on the south side of Mt Etna?  I decided to do it.  No maps worth taking, so I took some screen shots with my phone, packed a few gels, a few euro's, and some water, and talked my crew into meeting me at the top (in the Audi rental car).
The run started off hot, and I ran slowly to keep my body heat in check.  Immediately was a 500 foot and five mile climb to the town of Motta, then an easy descent off the north side of that town.  Somehow I took a wrong turn there and ended up off track and with a few bonus miles on my way north to the town of Belpasso.  This was more heat, wind, and several stops to check my map pictures.  Once I found Belpasso I knew I would find the road up.  I stopped for a pastry and water refill at around 13 miles right in the middle of town, and then continued the push to the north and onto the shoulders of massive Mt Etna.  The grade was steep enough to be slow running, but not so steep as to require a hike.  Ever. (I was thinking 'please just one super steep switchback so I can walk!?').  It was difficult, and the mountain proper still looked far off!  'One foot in front of the other, and I'll get there !' was what I had to tell myself in order to maintain focus.  It was definitely feeling like an ultra-distance effort.  The country side out there is just beautiful.  Lovely little farms, olive and citrus orchards, the occasional restaurant.  I was the only runner I saw all day.. needless to say I got a few strange looks!  Slowly the farmland gave way to volcanic flows from past eruptions (this is a very active volcano, and it was even erupting several days ago).  The grade never relented, but the air cooled, and eventually even became cold.  I could smell the gas from the volcano, and as I reached the snow line it was all covered in ash.  What amazed me is that there are a few homes built up here.  Several can be seen beside the road, covered up to their roofs in lava.  Other newer buildings have been built on mini summits.  Not sure I'd choose to live so close to such an active monster!
My legs were dead as I reached the top, and I was so glad to see my crew in the Audi with warm clothes, water, and most importantly a seat to sit in!  The views from the top are spectacular.  In the very far distance the city of Catania, and even the base at Sinonella were visible, a seeming impossible distance, and far below. 
Overall, this was a great training run.  The 26 miles and approximately 5000 feet of climbing don't quite do justice to the difficulty of the run, and I believe it will make me stronger as I move toward the San Diego 100 in June.  Today I'm very glad I didn't have to do this three more times though...even though I've done it, and am training to do it again,  running 100 miles is hard to imagine!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gorge Waterfalls 50K. A gem of a race!

I signed up for this race a few months ago, partly due to the fact that my sister and her family lives in Portland, and I imagined a nice long-weekend road trip.  I’ve been using these early-in-the-year 50k trail races as long training runs for the real long stuff this summer, so the plan has been to minimize taper, and maximize recovery.  They are not focus races, but I still like to compete!  Unfortunately, about a week prior, I came down with a cold that just wouldn’t quite go away, so the taper became sort of enforced, and I missed a couple of important runs.  No problem, I’ve got enough base built up, and there’s no crying over spilled milk right?!
The drive down was easy, and we had a spacious hotel room for the five of us plus mother in law.  Then our three year old decided to stay up all night making crazy requests.  Can you tuck me in?  I’ve got a runny nose!, I’m thirsty!, I’m tired… mommy I’M TIRED!, and on and on.  All.  Night.  Long.  Two hours of sleep, and we’re all off to the start!
This race was kind of a ‘who’s-who’ for big name ultra runners.  Max King (three time XTERRA world trail marathon champion, and world mountain running champ), Ian Sharman (fastest trail 100 mile ever run in the US), Jen Shelton (fastest trail 100 mile ever run in the US), Erik Skaggs (multiple course record holder and super fast guy), Stephanie Howe (trail 50k national champ last year I think), Yassine Diboun (super fast guy about to break through in a big one), Jeff Browning (won tons of ultras, and always near the front), Seth Swanson (less known, but just won Orcas 50k in a very fast time).  I’m sure there are a few others out there, but suffice it to say that I was out gunned, and just hoping for a good smooth run, and to be near the top ten!  The course its self changed a couple of times due to unforeseen circumstances, and tons of snow at higher elevations.  We ran it as a simple out-and-back that began with a big hill and subsequent descent, and then about 10 miles of rolling hills and difficult terrain (and a two mile road section).  Total climbing was right around 6000 feet.  James Varner and Candice Bert did a good job rolling with the punches (all the way up to the start when he was delayed with a flat tire and malfunctioning jack!), and delivered a great race for everyone to enjoy.  Many thanks James and Candice, you are delivering really wonderful experiences for all of us!  Even the road section was good, since it allowed the front runners to pass a lot of the middle of the pack on the road, vice head to head on the single track. 
Unfortunately for my story there was no major drama as far as my run.  No mind bending bonks, no falls, no blood!  I felt good, but not great, possibly due to the lingering head cold and lack of sleep, and that lasted the entire way, until the end when I did feel great (probably because I just felt good earlier, and didn’t push too hard!).  The weather was near perfect, and after a delay (due to the afore mentioned flat tire), we were off.  A little mess up by the lead pack right at the start, and I decided to double back about 100’ to get back on course while they cut through the woods back on.  Mistake.  That put me WAY back in the pack, and in the middle of a bunch of slower runners.  At this point Jen Shelton came flying by, and I ran in her draft at a fast clip trying to reel in the front a bit.  We ran up to about 15th spot by the first climb, and Jen kept pushing ahead while I ran with Ian Sharman for a while.  I passed Ian near the top of the first big climb only to see him disappear as soon as the trail turned down a minute later.  Amazing, I wasn’t running slowly, but I felt like I was watching my footing for a second and then Ian was just nowhere to be seen!  This was a steep, snowy, and dangerous descent, and I was able to use that to catch back up to and pass Jen.  The next few miles I ran right behind the lead woman, Stephanie Howe.  I just concentrated on a sustainable pace, a gel every 20 minutes, oh, and the incredible views and stunning waterfalls.  This is a fantastic place!  We literally ran under a couple of really huge falls, and we were constantly crossing bridges near smaller rivers.  Add to that some pretty narrow single tracks right on the edge of killer (literally) steep slopes, fairytale forests covered in moss... I wasn't bored for a moment!
I passed Stephanie on a short road section, and pulled ahead just slightly.  She rolled into the next aid station right after me, and at the turnaround I had about a 30 second lead.  For the next several miles I would get ahead a bit on the climbs and descents, only to notice her catch back up to within a minute on the flatter but more twisty sections of trail.  Coming into the last climb I was about to justify a bit of a hike since there was no one ahead to catch, but just then I caught sight of Stephanie several switch-backs down the hill.  It was good to have her there to push me a bit when I got lazy!  I ended up running the entire climb, and flying down the other side.  It’s actually nice to do that and feel good at the end of several hours of running at a faster-than-training pace… it proves that proper calorie intake can be the difference between feeling terrible at the end, and feeling pretty strong. 
I ended up 12th overall (out of 212 finishers, and a few DNF’s), in a time of 4:06.  I’m proud of the run, I felt great at the end, and I think I met my goal of a competitive training run that I can recover from quickly!  Running is humbling and empowering at the same time.  I’ve gotten much faster over the last few years, and my endurance is improving constantly.  A run like the one I had here would contend for the win many of the smaller races (depending on who showed up of course), but at the same time, Max King took the win here in 3:19, proving that 1:30 min/mile advantage on the road (he just ran 2:14 at the Olympic Trials Marathon) does equal 1:30 per mile on the trails (for him at least).   There were several other fantastic runners about 35 minutes ahead of me (out of reach even on my best day currently), and there were several about 10-15 minutes ahead (I think I could have done that with a slightly more aggressive approach).  More work to do, but I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t fun!
Another highlight of the weekend was making the trip with my beautiful family.  There is nothing  better!  This trip was capped by a wonderful stay with my sister Ghretta, her husband Rick, and their beautiful daughter Macy.  We had a great time catching up (it’s been way too long), and enjoying a really cool city.  We’ll definitely be coming back to Portland!
Now I’ll be attempting to progress in my training while I spend a little over a month flying out of Sicily.  That will be challenging, and I suspect I may have to get friendly with the treadmill in order to get the miles and vertical in.  May is the Sun Mountain 50 mile, and my brother is coming out to run his first 50k… should be a blast, but I gotta run smart since the San Diego 100 is just three weeks later.  Let the fun continue!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fort Ebey Marathon Race Report: Oak Harbor runners RULE!!

So two long distance races in two weeks might not be the smartest training strategy, but when I heard that NW Trail Runs was putting on a race just miles from my house I knew I had to run it!  The question was which distance?  They advertized 10k, 1/2 marathon, 20 miles, and full marathon.  Well, 10k is just too short, and when my good friends (and seriously fast runners) Andy Wyman and James Steller signed up for the 20 and the 1/2, I knew it had to be the 'full' so we could all have a chance at top spots!

The training:  Well, an easy week after Orcas, a couple of really good runs the weekend after Orcas, and a normal mid week schedule (except a bit light on the intensity).  Saturday off was my 'taper'.  My coach, Karl Meltzer advised me to just cruise the distance in order to recover quickly.  The goal is a solid race at the Gorge Waterfalls 50k in March.  So I was thinking 10 minute miles (these trails are pretty slow).  What started the unravelling of this good plan was when I looked at the results of those signed up.  No one seemed to have anything that indicated they could outrun me even at a slow pace.  This got me thinking that I could win.  Then at the last minute I notice James Varner signed up.  I figured we're probably pretty close...

Race day!  Cool and cloudy, but no rain.  Perfect!  I arrived early enough to do some mingling.. and early enough to talk with James V.  He said his plan was to run a 3:30 (8min/mile).  So there went my plan to cruise easy.  Right out the window!  That would be one heck of a run on this course.  Sorry Karl!  I lined up at the front with my friends and blasted up the first hill.  Only a couple of people infront.  Steady pace reeled in one (I can't believe how hard some people go out without the fitness to back it up), the other was off the front, but only running the 10k, so not a factor.  This race was two 1/2 marathon loops (that included part of the 10k loop).  I train on these very same trails a lot; they are very difficult to run fast, and although the climbs are limited to about a max of 200 feet, they come one after another.  The descents are twisty, and never seem to give the time back.

I ran the first few miles with James Steller and Andy Wyman,and I knew James V must be close behind.  After about six miles I let James and Andy go and concentrated on running my pace.  Easy enough to leave gas in the tank, but hard enough to make it tough to catch me!  As I said in my Orcas blog, nutrition is a project of mine.  The goal was a gel every 20 minutes, and I hit that religiously all day today.  That's a first!  The first loop finished in just under 1:50.  The second loop dragged a bit.  I was definitely feeling not-so-fresh from the 50k just two weeks earlier.  I concentrated on running every climb, smooth cruising on the techy stuff, and fast when it smoothed out.  Running alone in these dense woods can play tricks on your mind.  My past experience is that just when you relax someone comes by you like you're taped to a tree!  I just knew James was behind me feeling really strong in the middle of a great negative split or something.  I tried to concentrate on reality, and have enough in the tank incase I needed to hit the nitrous button in the last mile or so.  That never happened, and with about two miles to go I relaxed a bit knowing I had it wrapped up.  Second loop complete in 2ish hours for a 3:47 marathon, and first place by 15 minutes!

As always, it was great to see my lovely wife and three boys at the finish.  I told them four hours, and they showed up right then (getting a 4yo, a 3yo, and a newborn in the car is about as tough as a trail marathon!).  Just  a few minutes too late for my little ones to run across the finish with me, but still so very appreciated!

James Steller won the 1/2 marathon with my friend Tom finishing second.  Andy won the 20 miler by a large margin, and I won the marathon.  Not a bad day for us local Oak Harbor runners!

Overall this was a great race put on by a very professional group.  The trails were perfectly marked (and there are so many intersections out there that's a real job).  There was great turnout, and I couldn't ask for a better training race.  They advertised about 5500' of climbing for the marathon, and I believe it... it's just broken up into about 55 100 foot intervals.  I'll definitely run this one again!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Orcas Island 50k Race Report

OK, this is the first blog entry that I'm showing to friends (Facebook).  It does seem that every runner has a blog these days, so I'm not trying to compete with that... just using this as my personal diary of running events, and as a way to share my experiences with friends and family (and anyone that finds the information useful or interesting)!

This was my first race of 2012, and the first of several that I'm using as long 'training runs' in preparation for a couple of summer 100 milers (San Diego and hopefully Cascade Crest).  Orcas also happens to be one of our favorite mini vacation spots, and a really great and challenging race... A perfect opportunity for a little family getaway!
A quick note on my training.  Since Deception Pass 50k in early December I've been using Karl Meltzer's expert coaching service to fine tune my training.  The focus has been on quality over quantity (averaging low 60 mile weeks), and good recovery.  I am truely in the best running shape of my life!  The plan for Orcas was to treat it like a 'B' race.  Basically, try to run well, and be strong at the end in order to recover quickly.  No worrying about my place overall.  Turns out that's a good thing since this was the biggest field ever at this 50k (around 300), and some real speedsters showed up!

Another goal for this race was to start dialing in my nutrition needs. I have a habit of delaying calorie intake in the heat of battle, and paying for it dearly in the later stages.  The last 50k I ran I took in only 600 calories (a gel every 45 minutes) and ended up hurting.  I started here with a good breakfast, and a hundred or so calories just before the start. Then a gel every 20 minutes for as long as I could stand it.
The weather was absolutely perfect.  Frosty cold, but no wind, and clear skies giving way to mid-forties by noon.  Time to race!
I started out in the front row to aviod the 'conga line' that often developes in these things.  I allowed a couple of dozen speedsters to go out front and settled in behind Shawna Tompkins for the first mile. 
Running was smooth and easy as I dropped Shawna slightly and passed a couple of other slowing runners.  The first climb has some steep parts that I hiked in order to conserve myself for later in the race.  By the end of this climb (mile 5 ish) I was already passing early starters and thinking that they were in for a very long day!  Next came about 5 miles of mostly downhill.  Here the pacing gets more difficult since the cardio isn't taxed, but the legs take a beating.  I chose to run fairly hard in order to take advantage of gravity.  Rolling into the first aid at mile 10 I figured I was in about 20th position, and feeling really comfortable.  Then came the very steep and gruelling climb up the powerlines.  I must have passed a couple of dozen runners on this stretch (mostly early starters) even though I hiked most of it.  The plan was to save it for the nice wooded cruiser downhill that started at the top of the powerline climb.  This paid off as that was one of the most enjoyable sections of the run!  Narrow padded single track through old growth cedar forrest!  Awesome!  Then came several miles of rolling trail around Mountain lake before the mile 19 mini aid station and the big climb to the top of Mt Constitution began.  This was a pretty tough one.  Last year here I started bonking badly (and never recovered).  This year the additional calories provided a noticable benefit.  My legs were starting to get kind of rubbery, but no bonk.  After about a mile we popped out on the ridge and were greeted by spectacular views of Puget Sound and Mt Baker that truely made the hard work worthwhile!  A quick refuel at the summit aid station (mile 22) and back on the trail for the last 9 miles.  This section starts with a steep descent (too steep and switchbacked to take advantage of), and then a moderate climb for a couple of miles.  I hit a low point on this climb.  I could have run most of it, but my head wasn't in it and I was mostly hiking.  The stomach was feeling a bit off, but I did choke down a gel (the first one in a while).  This seemed to hit the system right about the end of the climb.  After this the course is downhill (a mix of steep and trecherous and smooth and flowing) for about three or four miles, and then rolling terrain around Cascade Lake (a mile or so) to the finish.  Last year this descent was a painful disaster, and the lake loop was more of the same.  This year I felt stronger and stronger on the descent, and was able to run smoothly, even strongly, all the way to the finish.  My family can't always accompany me to my races, but one of the highlites of this race was seeing them cheering for me at the finish, and then crossing the line with two of my three boys (the five-week-old can't quite jog yet).  It really makes my day when I can share the whole experience with people I love!

I ended up with a time of 5:13.. that would've been 3rd last year, but this year it got me 11th.  Oh well, my time was 26 minutes faster than last year (when I also came in 11th), and I call that a success.  The only person that passed my after the start was a guy from Portland (Jeff?) that I ran with from around mile three all the way to 23 or 24.  He dropped me when I was feeling sorry for myself, and I'm pretty sure I was reeling him in on the descent, it just wasn't quite enough.  Although my quads are a little tenderized as I write this (the next day), I feel pretty darn good overall.  Recovery is coming quicker and quicker on these things. 
How to improve for the next one?  I left time on the course with a very conservative start, but going out faster probably wouldn't save more than a minute or two.  Same goes for everything up to the climb starting at mile 19.  Could've run that harder.  That's where I started playing my old game of not eating.  I just didn't feel like it, and, coincidently or not, the next climb a half hour later didn't go very well.  I need to make a point of eating on schedule, and then maybe even double downing when I start to 'not feel like it' (unless there is a legitimate possibility of getting sick).  The climb at mile 24 is probably where I lost the most time.  I think that was mostly a mental low, and those happen.  Practice helps, and nutrition early in the race put me in a position to bounce back strong. 

Thanks to James Varner and Candice Burt of Rainshadow Running.  The events they put on are top notch!  Also a big thumbs up to all the volunteers who cheerfully endure the elements so we can play... what more can be said?  The post race food, beer, and band really cap it off... I can't wait for the next one!