Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Western States 2010

What a day batman!

I'll spare you the details from the week before the race in and around Lake Tahoe with my family and random runner friends, but suffice to say it was restful, scenic and thoroughly enjoyable.

For the race itself, I had lined up an all-star cast to help me out with crewing and pacing duties, and I was fortunate to have a mix of old hands and thoroughly energized 'new blood' to help me out on my journey from Squaw to Auburn. Nick Pedatella and Justin Mock would be working the crew access points from the north side of the trail, while Dana, Alistair and Joni would be working the south side, meaning I had as much coverage as possible in terms of allowable crewing outside of that on offer at the aid stations themselves. This proved to be crucial in my race effort.

While the race organization, hoopla and general epicness of the event fell short of what I had been expecting (on a number of levels), the Western States Endurance Run remains by far the biggest 100-miler in the country. With the 2010 lineup looking to be the stoutest on record, I was completely unsure of how things might shake out for me in terms of placement and such like. So while I was there to be competitive, I had decided in the weeks leading up to the event to focus entirely and unreservedly on my own race, and let the chips fall where they may, regardless of what was going on around me.

Looking a little less goofy than the actual Webcast pic. Photo: Justin Mock

Sat next to Olga pre-race. Photo: Olga Varlamova

Last year's top ten, plus qualifiers from Ultra Cup races on stage at the pre-race meeting. Photo: Olga Varlamova

Given the advice I had received from race veterans prior to the event, the basic game plan going in was to go out conservatively and then hammer the back half of the course from Foresthill in, while hopefully picking up carnage along the way.

From the gun up the opening climb, I settled into what felt like a very moderate training pace. Considering the ease of the effort, I was excited to see that I was keeping pace with the lead pack. While I hadn't had a whole lot of nervous energy coming into the event, any nerves I had been harboring disappeared pretty much immediately once the running was underway and it was an absolute pleasure to be running seriously again after a long taper while also enjoying the stunning views of the fog encrusted Squaw Valley from on high.

Topping out on Emigrant. Photo: Olga Varlamova

Emigrant. Photo: Olga Varlamova

The climb up to Emigrant Pass is in the 2,500'/4.5 mile range, and it went very quickly. There were about ten of us within shouting distance of each other as we approached the top of the climb. Killian Jornet, the much-hyped, much discussed, yet thoroughly likable Spaniard was out front once we hit the first snow field before the short, but steep grunt to the summit of Emigrant. He was the only one from our pack to fully run the final few hundred feet of steepness, and I have to say it was a joy to watch - this kid is amazingly light on his feet.

There were still a good nine to 10 of us within sight of each other as we descended on a nice stretch of clear singletrack before heading into the trees and snow of the Granite Chief Wilderness. I was running with Josh, Zach and Hal, while Geoff, Anton and Killian had put a small gap on us. Hal seemed pretty eager to bridge the gap to the lead three, so I was happy to let him go as I stopped to unburden myself of early morning coffee.

The trail would reappear from time to time, but more as creek than actual dirt. The early going was wet, sloppy and slippery to say the least, and it was, I think, the primary reason for the foot blistering that would plague me for much of the run.

About nine miles in to the run, we rounded a gate and headed off down a snowy jeep track that would lead us off towards the course re-route on the lower side of the French Meadows Reservoir from the standard high-ridge route on the other side of the reservoir. My two other Pearl Izumi teammates in the race caught up to me somewhere in here and we ran three abreast in our fancy team jerseys Tour de France style, laughing at how we were working as a team in a sport that is essentially a solo endeavor when it comes to racing. Leigh Schmitt, a strong and decorated runner from the east coast caught up with us here too, and it was soon the four of us picking up a pace that I felt was a little on the hot side. In fact, I felt it was lot on the hot side. By the time we caught back up with Hal, Zach, Geoff, Anton and Killian, I was sure we were moving too fast.

We hit the next aid station en masse, with some of the guys stopping, others passing straight through, but all of us gathering back as a rough group for the long road down to the Poppy Lake Trailhead. Killian’s media crew was on the side of the road shooting photos shortly thereafter, and the vehicle they were traveling in would trail us for the four to five miles that we continued on the dirt road before we turned off onto a section of asphalt that finally/thankfully brought us to the Poppy Lake trailhead and some gorgeous running along the banks of the reservoir.

I was not only thankful to be off the road, but also delighted to be out of sight of the guys in front who had been pulling us along at a forceful low six-minute pace. For most of the long straight road section, I had been running with Nick and Anton, while watching Killian, Josh, Hal, Leigh, Zach and Geoff grow a bit of a lead up ahead. However, with Nick pit-stopping in the bushes soon before the trailhead and Anton zipping through the aid quicker than me, I was finally left to run my own race and not worry about others around me.

I immediately slowed the tempo and focused on finding a more reasonable effort that I thought would be sustainable all day (the all-day pace), as I knew full well that the previous effort - while comfortable at the time - was suicidal over the long haul. Thankfully, the trail was scenic and non-technical, so it was easy to get into a groove and find a comfortable effort.

Before I knew it, the trail had outrun the reservoir and it was taking us up the hill towards the Duncan Canyon aid station. On this rough and recently cut section of trail, which moved us through a recent burn area, I got my first taste of real heat for the day. Nothing too ominous, but certainly a good blast and a sign that things were getting ready to heat up significantly.

Nick and Justin
were there waiting with fresh bottles and gap splits, letting me know that the lead pack were no more than three minutes up on me, with Josh a minute ahead. I dropped the waist pack I had been carrying in favor of more accessible and less annoying handhelds; a setup I would keep for the rest of the run. The boys had me through the pit stop in under 90 seconds stocked up on fruit, refilled on the EFS Liquid Shot I was fueling on, and with two full water bottles. I was really beginning to feel the run, and was cautiously optimistic that I might be setting up for a good one.

Climbing out of Duncan Canyon, I caught sight of Josh and was soon passing him. He didn’t look like he was in a particularly good head space, but he assured me that he was just trying to find his 100-mile pace. As it turned out, he was already dealing with major blister issues, and while he would later be tempted to drop at Foresthill (62 miles), he would soldier on to get the job done with the help of tall stories and acts of nudity from his pacer and fellow PI teammate Scott Jaime. Nice work guys!

On the climb up to Robinson Flat, I was really beginning to find a rhythm, running effortlessly and enjoying the day. While my feet were starting to give me some grief after hours of sogginess from the creeks and snow, everything else appeared to be firing well.
Coming in to Robinson (29.7, 4:21), I got a good cheer from the assembled masses, a kiss from my wife, a cheer from my son and mother-in-law, and a stock up on supplies, all of which equaled good energy.

Coming out of Robinson. Photo: Auburn Journal.

The road up and out of Robinson was snowy, which was annoying, but after a turn onto the Western States trail at the top of Little Bald Mountain I was soon out of the snow and descending on a beautifully switchbacked section of trail down to the Miller’s Defeat Aid Station, and then on fast fire roads down to the Dusty Corners aid station (38, 5:18). Nick and Justin were there waiting and once again they got me through very efficiently. Justin informed me that Zach and Leigh were 5 minutes up on me, but no other intelligence was offered, which led me to believe that the top four were way off the front already.

Coming into Dusty Corners. Photo: Olga Varlamova

Coming into Last Chance (43.3), I caught a glimpse of Leigh’s vest a minute down the road, which provided a boost to the energy levels. However, I was determined to keep to the pre-race plan of getting my ass to Foresthill in one piece before worrying about chasing down places, so I continued my aid station routine of refilling the bottles with cold water, eating a couple of pieces of fruit, drinking a couple of cups of coke and taking some good cold water down the back of the neck, all of which was typically taking me no more than a minute.

Phew! Photo: Luis Escobar

The route out of Last Chance descended gently for a while before descending sharply on switchbacked trail a couple of thousand feet into Deadwood Canyon, the launching point for the steepest climb of the day up to Devil’s Thumb. I was looking forward to the climb as a rest from the last 16 miles and 4,000 feet of descent. More importantly however, the Devil’s Thumb crest (48), while not exactly halfway would mark that point for me psychologically.

Just before the bottom of Deadwood Canyon, I caught up to Leigh and Zach (a two for one) and we would run/hike the climb up to Devil’s thumb together. They were both chatters and eager to engage in conversation, and while I'm usually happy to chat and share a good time on the trail during local races, I really wanted to maintain a focus on this day and not lose track of fueling, hydration and salts, so I wasn’t the greatest of trail companions for the miles we shared.

We hit Devil’s Thumb pretty much as a group, with Zach a few ticks up and Leigh a few ticks back. Leigh and I soon caught back up to Zach on the 2,700’ drop into the next canyon and we again proceeded as a trio all the way down to the Swinging Bridge over El Dorado Creek. We let Zach lead, and given the pace it was evident that he wasn’t hitting the downs too well. I was happy to conserve however, reminding myself to remain patient. I finally popped out and took the lead near the river, but on the climb back out and up to Michigan Bluff, Zach resumed the strong climbing he had been showing on previous ascents and gapped both Leigh and I again.

Leigh and I. Photo: Olga Varlamova

Coming into Michigan Bluff, I think. Photo: Olga Varlamova

By the time we were out of the canyon and up to the aid station at the small village of Michigan Bluff, Zach was already gone. While at the aid station, not only did I get refueled, doused and weighed, but I also got a kiss from my wife and my son, plus a slap on the ass from Scott Jaime who imparted some motivating words of encouragement, telling me to get after Zach and start hunting. This is pretty much were I flicked the switch on the run and started focusing on the race.

I was finally able to drop Leigh on the dirt road climb out of Michigan Bluff before the route hit singletrack again, and while he was close to being back on me by the the time we spilled out on to Bath Road, I wouldn't see him again during the race from there on in.

I ran up the road with Nick who filled me in on what was going on up front. To my surprise, he said that he had run with Geoff a bit (20 minutes up on me) and learned that he was hurting and not doing too well. A little spark of motivation on that news. I told Nick that I was going to switch out from my Pearl Trail Fuels into a dry pair of road Fuels and a dry pair of socks at Foresthill in hopes that I could ease some of the pain coming from my soggy blistered feet. Nick raced ahead on the Foresthill road and had that all set up for me when I arrived. Justin was there too and between the three of us, the pit stop can't have been more than three minutes.

Justin was ready to roll, and I could feel his energy as we got going on the road. I've never used a pacer in a race before, and Justin had never paced (or finished) an ultra, let alone run more than 30 miles in one shot, so I was a little unsure of how the dynamics would work out. I did know, however, that Justin had a similar competitive bent to mine, so I figured he would be effective in keeping me focused on the race, which was after all just getting started. As it turned out, he was crucial to my race effort and helped take me to the outer limits of my outer limits (a place I was looking to find this weekend) in - by far - the most excruciatingly painful finish to a race I have ever experienced. And that is a good thing. More on that later.

I told Justin that I was confident that we'd be reeling in Zach pretty soon on the drop from Cal Street on the Western States Trail, and within a couple of miles we picked up his yellow jersey and were soon passing. Zach hung for a little bit, and came into Cal 1 a half minute behind me, complaining somewhat comically that he was being treated like chopped liver with all the aid volunteers swarming around me at that point. The day was really beginning to heat up here, and unfortunately the guys at the aid station had nothing but a mist bottle for cooling purposes. After a couple of squirts from that, I realized that it was a complete waste of time, so I headed out figuring I'd cool down at an upcoming creek crossing. Zach was slower getting out and we never saw him again.

We had picked up a good head of steam by now and we lit up the rolling section between Cal 1 and Cal 2. At the aid station, we got the news that Hal was now no more than 15 minutes up on us and that Geoff was 10 minutes ahead of him, which meant that we were picking up ground, and added to the adrenaline that was now fueling my run. A few turns from the Ford's Bar aid we heard cheers from the volunteers, which we assumed was for Hal, and true enough he had gotten out just a minute or two ahead of me. Despite the scent of blood, I was still diligent in sticking to the aid station routine. Justin would find cold water or sponges to douse me with, while I would scoff fruit, down cokes and eat S-caps, with the volunteers attending to our bottles. Again, we would typically be out within a minute.

It didn't take us long to pick up Hal, and it was quite evident that his day from a racing perspective was over. He had and his pacer
courteously stepped off the trail and wished us well. I was now running in fourth, feeling tired but strong and wondering if there was more carnage to come. A podium finish was now beginning to seem like it may be in the cards. However, at the river, I got the news that Geoff's lead was back up to 30 minutes, while Anton and Killian were a good 45 minutes ahead. I told Justin here that the mission now was to not implode and hang on to fourth, although I knew he was still anticipating the possibility of carnage and that he wanted to keep pushing.

Closing in on Hal

On the short boat crossing, I took the opportunity to lean off the side and splash water over my head and then on getting out of the boat I continued the dousing. It was just feeling so good that I wanted to stay for a while, but Justin as ever was on me to get moving. We hiked a fair portion of the early climb up to Green Gate, and I was fine with that as I really needed the rest. About halfway up, we met up with Nick and soon after we were back running again. The road up from the river was very exposed and the sun was really beginning to hurt, so I took a little extra time at Green Gate to make sure that I was thoroughly cooled off with lots and lots of cold water over the head. I knew it was roughly 20 miles into the finish, and while I was tired I also knew I had good legs left to get the job done in a respectable time.

Justin and I at Green Gate, getting ready for the final push. Joe McCladdie

Thankfully, the trail on the next five miles was rolling and relatively easy, and while I wasn't killing it here, I was able to maintain a decent effort. Coming into Auburn Lake Trails at 85 miles, we got a race update from one of the volunteers. He told us that Geoff and Anton had come in together, and so we assumed that Killian had taken off in the lead. Au contraire. The volunteer informed us that in fact Killian "had fallen apart."

Wow, 15 miles to go and 20-25 minutes to make up on what Justin was now referring to as 'dead meat.' Looking back, it appears that Killian was actually a half hour up still, so when we got into Brown's Bar (90) and were told that Killian was still 20 minutes ahead of us I figured that the game was up for third. I had pushed with pretty much everything I had in the five miles to Brown's Bar only to (mistakenly) find that I had made no ground on Killian. I assumed he had rallied, and so I told Justin that I was done chasing and that it was now about getting home comfortably under 17 hours. The reality was that I had closed 18 minutes on Killian between the two aid stations and he was actually 12 minutes ahead. The lesson? Never stop pushing and take with a pinch of salt gap estimates from aid station volunteers.

So we lolly-gagged our way to Highway 49, and I indulged with a fair bit of hiking on the ups. I could still tell that Justin wanted to get after it, but I just didn't have the motivation any more. That all changed the instant I got to Hwy 49 (93.5) and checked in with Nick. He informed us that Killian was only seven minutes up and that he looked like shit. There was no doubt in his mind, he said, that we could catch him. I immediately got a huge adrenaline rush and we were off and running absolutely everything as hard as possible.

The trail through this section was stunning and it was just surreal to be passing through this beautiful open meadow after so many hours in the forest. The sun was beginning to set, the hues of yellow were off the charts and there were a couple of elk to our right looking upon us in a very bemused manner. The beauty of it all, and the proximity of the finish spurred me on more than ever.

I didn't care about the pain any more. I had 10 kilometers worth of hurting left to endure and I had the chance to track down and pass one of the most respected endurance runners in the world on the most storied trail course in the country in the toughest 100-mile field ever assembled. That kind of stuff may not do it for you, but it was doing it for me. I was hammering with everything I had left.

The way we were moving, I knew it was just a matter of time before we caught up to Killian. I was just hoping it would be sooner rather than later so it wouldn't come down to a sprint or anything silly like that. We blasted straight through the no-hands aid station and Justin got a gap split of 90 seconds to two minutes from the crowd there. There was no doubt now that we were going to get him. The only question mark left was whether or not he was going to put up a fight.

Quite comically, we caught him on perhaps the steepest part of what was left of the trail on some rugged singletrack. I say comically, because here I am blasting by perhaps the best steep-course mountain runner in the world 97 miles into a grueling 100-miler. Killian and his pacer saw us late, and had just enough time to step off the trail and let us through. I heard Killian let out an expletive in French (a tongue I am familiar with) and I was just praying that I was showing enough strength that he wouldn't bother chasing.

To his credit, Killian was immediately back into race mode and he set about chasing me down. On what was left of the trail we swapped the lead a couple of times, and at one point I had to tell his pacer to get behind me as he literally cut right in front of me after Killian got a step on me. Killian
was power-hiking here in this crazy two-step style about 50 percent faster than I was running. Wow!

I followed Killian up on to the road that would lead us into town and to the finish. I was putting a bit of a gap on him here if I remember correctly, but he wasn't breaking, still hanging tough no more than 10 meters back on me. Justin was trying his best to keep me focused and pushing.
I have kind of lost track in my mind of how things played out here through the last mile and a half, but I know that we ended up shoulder to shoulder through the last aid station, both blasting through to massive cheers from those watching.

Having never run the course before, I had no idea what lay ahead through the last mile so I was somewhat distraught to see a long stretch of hill ahead. With one last throw of the dice, I pushed again with whatever it was that I had left to at least make the crest of the hill within striking distance of Killian to see if maybe I had something left for the last bit of down into the finish. I heard Justin dry heaving behind me as I got back on Killian's shoulder, but the Spaniard had just enough left in the tank to hit the gas one more time and leave me on the drop to the finish. I immediately knew the race for third was over. Justin caught back up to me and tried to squeeze one last ounce of effort from me, but I told him that I was done and that I wanted to cruise in with my son. And that's what we did. A very proud way to finish up.

Done. Photos: Olga Varlamova
Excuse the salty language:

Yup, that one hurt! Photos: Olga Varlamova

That's a lot of head and facial hair in the top five. Photo: Justin Mock

I gave it absolutely everything I had and tapped reserves I didn't even know were tappable. I will remember this one for a lifetime.

What a day!

For a pacer's perspective, check out Justin's report here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A WS100 Scouting Report

So we pulled into town Saturday afternoon in time for a short run and a bit of a scout of the higher reaches in and around Squaw Valley. I jogged out to the Five Lakes trailhead, and then climbed about 1,000 feet up to the snow line. The running was 100% clear up to about 7,200' after which the trail disappeared under a heavy blanket of snow, which was still a good two feet deep in places.

The creeks were running pretty good, so this stuff is definitely on the way out, but there is no doubt in my mind that there will be significant stretches of snow to negotiate if the course is not re-routed. Basically, the north-facing slopes and heavily forested areas above 7,000' are still covered, which means that much of the early going next weekend will still be covered in places and definitely wet. No biggie really. I'm just hoping the course is not re-routed, as I'd really like to experience the route as it has traditionally been run.

Today was a completely different experience. Dana, Alistair, Ian Torrence and I drove down to Foresthill and checked out the driveable parts of the course and the aid areas, and then Ian and I ran the crucial 15-mile section from Foresthill down to the river. The weather was no hotter than 80 degrees, and it was pretty comfortable the whole way as far as heat was concerned. Current forecast for race day is not much hotter, so I think we might be dodging a bullet on that front. River looked good, so I'm betting that we'll be fording rather than sitting in boats, so that's good news too.

Anyway, I'll let the following video (which is long and unedited) do the rest of the talking:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Week Ending June 20 (WS - 6 days)

Mon - 6 miles easy valley trails. Cold again. Went with a thermal underlayer plus an outer layer to try and generate some heat. Got a good sweat on. Legs felt as good as they have in weeks. Barely any pain or soreness anywhere. How refreshing.

Tues - 8.5 miles (2,200') easy, but hard. Some heat at last, well 70s at least. Went with the beanie, long sleeve thermal with tech long sleeve over that, and gloves. Starting to feel a little more at ease in the sweat suit. Good run today at an upbeat pace, although legs a touch heavier than I would like at this stage of the game. Couple more sweat runs, then out to Nevada/Cali for some real heat.

Weds - 6 miles easy. Valley trails.

Thurs - 9.5 miles (1,700'). 2.5 miles easy down to Soderberg from home, then hard effort up Towers with 25 others from FCTR. Pretty disappointing 30:29. Thought I was good for a PR, but wind, heat and dead legs made for a really poor run. Worked hard for a poor result. Not exactly what I would call a confidence builder, but then Western States is 100 miles, not 3.5 up a hill, so chalk it up to nothing in particular.

Fri - Travel day.

Sat - 7.5 miles (1,200'). Five Lakes Trail in Squaw.

Sun - 14.5 miles. Foresthill to Rucky Chucky on Western States course with Ian Torrence. More on the weekend runs later.

Total: 52 miles (5,100')

Legs were predictably lethargic this week. This follows a pattern I have become accustomed to through other tapers, so I am fully expecting to be firing on all cylinders come Saturday. Nothing to do now but jog around a bit and enjoy the beautiful locale.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wells, Nevada

Leaving town. Horsetooth Reservoir.

We made it much further than originally planned today, finally holing up 60 miles west of the Utah/Nevada border in a town called Wells in the Humboldt Mountains.

Both my pregnant wife and 3.75-year-old son have been remarkable road trip companions, with Alistair insisting that we push on past Salt Lake to reduce drive time for tomorrow. I didn't even know kids his age had the cognitive ability to reason beyond their immediate level of boredom and discomfort.

I'm always amazed at what a great road-tripper Alistair is. I think it stems from his first taste of the road at the age of six weeks when we upped ship and left the Gotham metropolis for Fort Collins on what turned out to be one of the worst journeys I've ever undertaken - and that's saying something. Since then, he's been across the Atlantic three times (maybe four), with numerous other domestic flights; has done six hours up to the Bighorns to crew his dad all day (and all night) in the 100 miler there last year; did 1,000 miles to Las Vegas via Salt Lake City earlier this year, and then another 1,000 miles straight back; and now another 1,000 miles out to California, and I'm sure there's more that I'm not thinking of. The dude's a trooper - and so is his mom.

Anyway, we hit the road at 8:30 this morning, just thirty minutes after originally scheduled. The plan was to take it easy, with strict orders from multiple concerned parties to stop at least every two hours to let the pregnant lady get out and stretch her legs. The original first-planned stopping point was Elk Mountain on the High Plains of southeastern Wyoming, but we sped past the snow-capped peak after taking time to gas up and stretch in Laramie just an hour into the trip.

Elk Mountain.

We stopped somewhere a couple of hours after Laramie, and then again in Rock Springs near the Utah border. I had listened to the US get robbed against Slovenia on ESPN radio through Wyoming, so had planned a stop in Rock Springs to catch the second half of the England vs. Algeria game, thinking England would be able to secure their berth in the second round with a convincing win. Had to hammer out some seriously ticket-worthy MPHs to get to Rock Springs by 1:30, and was left 45 minutes later wondering why the hell I still haven't learned my lesson when it comes to English football. Yet another dismal performance. Got the hell out of dodge as soon as the final whistle sounded and hit the road for Utah.

Dropping into Salt Lake

We were soon in Salt Lake, where we made a couple of wrong turns on their mess of a highway system. Coffee and treats from Whole Foods in Park City. And then the slog west across the Salt Plains. I told Alistair to be on the lookout for cars traveling the speed of sound, but we had to settle for police cars writing unfortunate drivers speeding tickets.

The Great Salt Lake.

Bonneville Salt Flats.

We finally pulled into town here in Wells a little after 8:00 and will take down the final five hours tomorrow. Looking forward to stretching the old legs in Cali - maybe a jog up to Emigrant Pass.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Week Ending June 13 (WS - 2 Weeks)

Mon - Took the day off in an effort to get into a tapering frame of mind.

Tues - Noon: 6 miles easy (500') valley trails.
PM - 6.5 miles easy (1,200') at Reservoir Ridge with the trail running group. Must have been close to 20 of us out. Much to everyone's delight, there was a big bull snake at the trailhead.

Weds - Noon: 14 miles (1,700'). Blue Sky/Indian Summer, out and back from home. Went out in full heat gear and suffered through a very sweaty, sluggish run. If I'd been swimming, I think I would have drowned. Felt super slow and super heavy. I don't much like running Blue Sky during the summer months as the snakes tend to congregate down in the valley there. Saw two today and enjoyed my first snake scream of the year when I was caught off-guard by a big grass snake that darted out right in front of me on Indian Summer. Less than a mile later I was stopped in my tracks by a small rattler (fourth on the season). Saw that one early enough that it didn't cause me to jump out of my skin. Snakes everywhere recently.

Thurs - AM: 7 miles (1,800'). Up Towers easy (38:40), then some BS'n at the top with Dan, Pete, Kyle and Victoria. Down at tempo. Easier first mile on tender hamstrings, then harder as I warmed into the descent. Never really run the descent hard, so the 18:31 (5:26 ave) serves as a baseline for any future efforts. According to Jonathan Vigh's website, Dan Turk has the descent FKT at 18:14.
PM: 6.5 miles easy. Social run w/FCTR at Pineridge. More than 20 turned out again.

20+ in attendance for the last few FCTR runs. Good stuff.
Heading out to Pineridge. Pete (black) in full Western States combat gear. Alex (foreground) checking on his troops.

Fri - 6 miles easy on the valley trails.

Sat - 8.5 miles (1,900') on the Horsetooth race course to scope conditions for Sunday's race. Trail was in decent shape despite incessant rain/drizzle. Got home to find the race directors had decided to postpone the event. Really disappointing as this was going to be one of my last hard efforts before States. Ah well, maybe I saved myself an injury. Still planning on letting loose on Towers this Thursday to see if I can dip into 28:xx land.

Sun - 21 miles (5,100'). 3:20. I was pretty disappointed that the race organizers decided to cancel the Horsetooth Trail Half (I'm still trying to figure out why exactly) as I wanted to get a good hard effort in today. Rather than recreate a race effort over the course, I headed out and ran half the course (which was in great shape) and then continued on to run a fairly standard Horsetooth/Lory long-run route. Not exactly heat-acclimation conditions given that it was in the 50s and raining, but I layered up nonetheless in a bid to get a bit of a sweat going with a slightly harder effort than I would normally impart on a run of this type.

Anyway, went: Home - Horsetooth - Westridge - Mill Creek - Howard - Timber - Well Gulch - Overlook - Arthurs - Valley - Sawmill - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderburg - home.

Total: 75 miles (12,200')

Pretty much where I wanted to be for the week in terms of mileage and such like. The run today was just so-so. Still feel like my hamstring is not quite right, but it is definitely better than it was last weekend. With a very easy two weeks upcoming, I feel like it will be good to go come race time.

It seems that the conventional wisdom among a lot of the guys I'll be running against at States is to go with a two-week taper, which has had me second guessing the easier week this week, but really I am more than comfortable with the longer taper as I just don't see the benefit of extra work this close to the race. Based on previous taper experiences, I know that my body takes a full three weeks to really start feeling good after a heavy training block. Typically, I feel kind of flat after that second week of taper and then really good through the last week, so I'm not going to mess with what has worked for me in the past.

With a last longer run with significant elevation gain in the books, I think I'm over the mental aspect of over-thinking the taper. Right now, I am 100 percent focused on rest and maintenance. I'll probably go hard up (and down) Towers on Thursday and then just run by feel for the remainder.

We take off for California either Friday or Saturday and will take our time road-tripping out there. Ideally, I would like to leave Friday to get to Squaw late Saturday so I can get a 14-15 mile run on the course on Sunday. The week before will be about having fun with the family, scoping out some logistical stuff at aid stations while scouting a few more sections of the course.

Lots of chitter-chatter about the 'Big Four' on the interwebs. I count at least 20 guys (beyond the favorites) who'll probably be thinking top ten, with probably ten of those thinking they've got a shot of going top three. Honestly, I'll be very surprised if more than two of the favorites make the top five.

Here are some names to consider (in no particular order):

Leigh Schmitt (M7, 17:49)
Tsuyoshi Kaburaki (M2, 16:52)
Andy Henshaw (2nd American River)
Zach Miller (M6, 17:34)
Phil Kochik (2nd Ice Age)
Rod Bien (3rd Miwok)
Josh Brimhall (not really a 100-mile specialist, but means business this year)
Erik Skaden (M8, 18:22)
Ian Sharman (24th at Comrades (6:02, beating Wardian) and only other Brit besides myself in the race)
Lon Freeman (2nd Mountain Masochist)
Nick Lewis (2nd Leadville '09)
Troy Howard (2nd Hardrock '09, 3rd fastest time ever)
Andy Jones Wilkins (M10, 18:46)
Mark Lantz (M9, 18:45)
Chikara Omine (2nd Bandera '10)
Victor Ballesteros (11th last year, 18:50)
Gary Robbins (HURT Champ, taking down Roes' CR in the process)
Oz Pearlman (he'll be the fastest magician in the field)
Michael Arnstein (2nd JFK '09)
Rob Evans (recently profiled by Scott Dunlap as a "Faster Master")
Justin Angle
Ian Torrence

And others, I am sure.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Week Ending June 6 (WS - 3 weeks)

Mon - 13 miles (4,300'). Round Mtn, plus second lap to two mile & back.

Jan: 252 (33,700')
Feb: 189 (33,500')
March: 488 (70,000')
April: 482.5 miles (72,700')
May: 439 miles (79,500')

2010: 1,850 (289,400')
Avg: 370 (58,000')

Tues - PM: 6.5 miles (1,200'). Easy social run with FCTR at Reservoir Ridge.

Weds - Noon: 6 miles easy (500') on valley trails.

Thurs - Noon: 6 miles easy (500') on valley trails.
PM: 10.5 miles (2,000'). 3.5 warm up on valley, then 7 up and down Towers with FCTR. Overdressed a bit to add a little heat.

Fri - Noon: 10 miles easy (1,200'). Soderberg to Well Gulch and back. Overlook/valley trails. Heat run: winter hat, gloves, long sleeve top + 80 degree temps. Got some funny looks.
PM: 6 miles easy (500') on valley trails.

Sat - AM: 18 miles (1,900'). 15.5 (25k) race, with 1 mile w-u & 1.5 c-d.

Sun - AM: 24 miles (5,300'). Horestooth/Lory outer loop, or Double Dick, as Maire likes to call it. Went from my house with Pete. We we are both planning a three-week taper for States, so we figured it would be fun to round out the heavy lifting together. Tagged Horsetooth off the bat, then went Westridge - Mill Creek - Howard - Arthur's Rock tag - Timber - Valley - Sawmill - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg - home. Knew I needed 24 miles for the century on the week, so went the long way home to earn the last half mile needed (according to Pete's GPS) ... yeah, I know ...

So anyway, went pretty easy through the early going to the top of Arthurs, then picked up the pace a bit coming down on Timber. Legs felt super solid from Lory, so I hit the final climb up Sawmill/Herrington hard then easy back home from Spring Creek/Soderberg. Great way to round out a solid, solid block of training.

Total: 100 miles (17,400').

Well the work is done, the money has been deposited with the bank and hopefully come race time it will be there for withdrawal plus interest. I can safely say, I have never been fitter. Sure, I'm carrying a few niggles, but I now have three weeks to let those heal up before race day. This will be my first real taper of the year, so after all these miles I'm sure I'll be bouncing off the walls with the reduced load, but I am determined to take this taper seriously and get to the start line fresh and ready to race hard.

So now the taper is on, a quick look back at the training block since qualifying for States on January 10 at Bandera:

1. 85 miles (9,900'): 62 mile long run (6,500').
2. 40.5 miles (4,500'): 38 mile long run (4,500').
3. 53.5 miles (8,100'): 20 mile long run (1,000').
4. 53 miles (9,600'): 17.5 mile long run (1,200').
5. 25.5 miles (4,900'). Injured.
6. 34 miles (1,600'). Injured.
7. 51.5 miles (7,700'). Getting better.
8. 78 miles (19,300'). 15 miles (5,600') & 17 miles (4,300') B2B.
9. 113 miles (22,700'). 25.5 mile long run (6,200').
10. 100 miles (10,800'). 26 mile long run (4,000'): Salida Marathon.
11. 117 miles (19,600'). 27 miles (1,200') & 17.5 miles (4,300') B2B.
12. 100.5 (13,500'). 32.5 miles (4,000'): Antelope Island 50k.
13. 116 miles (11,900'). 16.5 miles (2,00').
14. 107. 5 miles (20,000'). 20 miles (5,500').
15. 110 miles (15,100'). 52 miles (8,000'): Fruita 50.
16. 108 miles (18,500'). 25 miles (7,800').
17. 129 miles (14,700'). 14, 14, 14, 14, 16.
18. 102 miles (19,600'). 25.5 miles (8,200') & 18.5 (1,000') B2B.
19. 75 miles (15,000'). 19.5 miles (4,700') & 20 miles (4,800') B2B.
20. 103 miles (20,200). 50 miles (12,200'): Jemez.
21. 116 miles (21,000'). 31 miles (7,100') & 21 miles (5,200') B2B.
22. 100 miles (17,400'). 18 miles (1,900') & 24 miles (5,300') B2B.

So 13 weeks at or above 100 miles in the last 14 weeks, with 9 weeks over 17,000 feet of climbing. A total of 17 runs over 20 miles, and 11 over 25 miles.

I'm a firm believer in consistency, and I love what I see in those numbers. Obviously those stats don't come easy, and I have had my fair share of running through pain and running with niggles, but luckily I have - by and large - come out the other end relatively pain free. I need to address some pretty consistent achilles aches and a more recent hamstring issue, but if push comes to shove I can run through this stuff without any adverse effects to performance, but I would rather not.

I know I'm fit, I know I'm strong, and most importantly I know I can run for a very long time without getting tired. Now it is time to consolidate all that with some rest & recovery. Bring on the taper.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pilot Hill 25K, "The Oldest Footrace in Wyoming"

I always enjoy getting up to Laramie a few times a year to run events put on by the High Plains Harriers - an unceasingly friendly bunch.

Mike Hinterberg, Frank Praznik and I traveled up to the 34th running of Wyoming's 'oldest footrace' enjoying good conversation while checking out the great transitional scenery between Colorado's Front Range and Laramie's High Plains via Hwy 287.

Being the low key affair that the Pilot Hill Classic is I knew it was likely to be more time trial than race and I was absolutely fine with that. I was mainly focused on getting up the hill in under an hour after missing that mark by two and half minutes last year. With the slight tailwind on offer at the start, that seemed a reasonable enough goal. I wasn't too concerned about the trip back down, although I did want to push a bit to continue the Western States quad strengthening work.

The course starts with two to three miles of relatively flat meandering through sandy jeep track on the outskirts of town, before the climbing starts in earnest. The climb itself is about 1,600 feet over five to six miles, so not a major grade, but certainly steady. The footing varies from loose sand, to grass, to hardpack, to loose rock, to moonscape rock, to ruts, and back to sand; so a real mixed bag to keep you on your toes. The out is actually a bit longer than the back with the up being approximately 8.5 miles and the down approximately seven.

I got out at a hard, but comfortable pace and settled into a nice rhythm. Within a half mile it was evident that I probably wasn't going to have any competition, so I just focused on maintaining a comfortably hard effort, getting to the telecommunications towers at the top in 59:46, which was just under three minutes faster than last year. Certainly the tailwind helped, but then last year I was chasing the leader up the hill and not running solo like today, so probably an even trade. It definitely felt like I was moving easier today than I remember from last year, so another encouraging sign as far as general fitness is concerned.

Immediately on turning around for the descent, it was like being hit by a sledgehammer. The wind had really picked up and must have been gusting to 25 mph. It actually felt like I was working harder to maintain a solid pace down the hill than I had coming up it. I ended up about a minute and a half slower on the down versus last year and 75 seconds faster overall, finishing in 1:43:45.

Thanks to RD Jeff French for the homebrew post-race and the mighty fine spread of food. Really, this race deserves much better attendance, because for 20 bucks the value simply cannot be beaten.

Next weekend I'm on my home turf for the showdown with Mr Top American at the Horsetooth Trail Half. This is a tough one to call. I certainly have a massive advantage with course knowledge, but Justin is coming off a 2:29 in London, so where the ball will fall, nobody knows. Maybe we'll both get beat. That would shut us up!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Towers Update

So we had a record turnout for the Towers Road Handicap this evening with a total of 29 runners and one dog, or a total of 62 legs. I got out for a quick jog before the 6:00pm start and cleared a baby rattler off the Swan Johnson trail, just 100 meters from the trailhead. Second one of the season so far.

Not much more to add on this one other than to say that it was great to see so many Fort Collins Trail Runners out enjoying the beautiful weather with a solid workout. We'll keep doing this through the summer, so if you fancy a stab at the hill, or want to keep track of your fitness through the season, then this is a great way to do it. Hope to see more of you out there for the next one.

Oh, and a note of congratulations to Jeanne Mick who joined us in spirit a full 12 hours before the event - we run in the evening, Jeanne! Email your time or leave it in a comment and I'll add you to the list.

Oh yeah, and one other thing. We are working on getting a wheel versus foot event together one of these Thursdays, but until we get the head to head figured out, we do have a few (mountain) bike times as a point of reference:

Brian ..... 32:46
Doug ..... 31:15
Dwight ... 30:15
Jeff ........ 46:25
Ralph ..... 43:05

I always figured the runner would be quicker on a grade like this, especially with the gnarl factor on the last pitch, but I guess with most of the route being pretty well groomed, it's pretty even. Really not much in it, but until a bike goes under 29:27, I'm calling it for the runners.

Kings and Queens thus far:

4/8: Jonathan Zeif (JZ)
4/22: Laura Backus
5/6: Brian Walter
5/20: Kerry Doyle-Gundlach
6/3: Jeanne Mick

Records (Fastest Known Times):

Nick Clark: 29:27 (5/6)
Cherilyn: 38:21 (7/1)

Times through June 3:


Alex A...DNS.......43:47......DNS.........DNS......DNS...43:00...DNS
Alex M..39:44.....40:36.......DNS........38:16....38:18.56:48...38:14
Dan T.....DNS........DNS........DNS.......DNS.......35:06.DNS.....DNS
Mary G...DNS.......DNS........67:00....66:10......70:46...67:35.68:21
Mary B...DNS........DNS........DNS........DNS.......46:02..46:28.44:58
Mary 3.....................................................................42:30.40:57
Mike M...............................................................................80:00
Suzie.....DNS........DNS........DNS...Loggers.H'break Hill.H.Hill..DNS