Monday, July 27, 2009

Pikes Peak Scouting Run

Dan Turk put a message up on the Fort Collins Trail Runners listserv late last week about a planned run up Pikes Peak. The email came soon after I found out that I was in for the Pikes Ascent, so I quickly responded to Dan - a nine time Pikes vet - that I was up for the trip down to Manitou Springs, and we made plans for a 5am meet, with Alex May, another local Pikes runner making up our party of three. Alex and I were taking on the full climb and Dan was driving to the top for some quality time at altitude with a 3-2-1 workout (3 miles down to treeline, 3 back up, 2 miles back down, etc).

Having never run the Barr Trail, I was pretty intimated by the imposing sight of Pikes Peak as we made our way down I-25, but figured it would be just like any other big climb: stick your head down and settle in. Aside from knowing next to nothing about the trail, I had also never run a straight 8,000 feet of vertical in one shot (aside from Rainier, is that actually possible anywhere else in the US?), and certainly not up to and above 14,000 feet.

Anyway, Alex and I started out from the race start at the square in Manitou and jogged the mile and half to the trail proper. Once on the trail, I was gratified to find it in perfect running shape, with next to no technical issues to deal with. The opening climb through the 'W's is probably the steepest of the whole run, but because of the quality of the trail I was able to get into an easy but steady rhythm, passing No Name Creek at 45 minutes or so. I picked up the tempo a bit from here and pushed quite hard through the next section, which included some brief moments of down, and much easier grades in general. Went past Barr Camp in 1:18, and just kept plugging at the pace I had settled into, waiting for the fun at treeline to begin.

Hit the three-mile-to-go marker at 1:56, still feeling good with little noticeable impact from the rapidly decreasing supply of oxygen. Although the summit still looked impossibly far away, the sign said three miles, and I kept that in mind rather than spending too much time looking at the peak. By mile two to go, I was definitely beginning to feel the reduced oxygen, so slowed to maintain an equal effort. Went through in 2:12, for an almost 16-minute mile. Went through the penultimate mile in 14 minutes, and the final beast of a mile in 18:30 for a total run time of 2:44:03. I let out a yell - as I'm apt to do - as I rounded the final switchback onto the cog tracks, which was cause for a degree of amusement among some of the assembled tourists.

I ran every step of this climb with the exception of about 100 meters through the cruel section known as the 16 Golden Steps, which comes maybe a half mile from the top. The whole effort felt controlled, and served as a pretty big confidence boost with regards to running a sub 2:30 on race day - a number that will be borderline with respect to cracking the top 10.

Wore the Crosslites for this run and was for the most part happy with how they ran. There's no doubt they were responsive to the pea-sized gravel on the lower Barr Trail, but I'm still not 100% on them on the rocks. Either way, I'll probably run these at the race, although I need to test the Vasque Celerators a little more as they are a similar weight with a little more grip on the rock, I find. Maybe not as responsive as the Crosslites, however.

With a run at Flattop (12,300'), Hallet (12,700') and Taylor (13,150') planned for next weekend and then Longs the following weekend, I'm hoping that come race day I'll be able to push through some of the burn I felt at 13,000'+ today.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Week Ending July 26

Mon - 8 miles easy (1,650'). 1:16. Horsetooth/Audra. (WCs)

Tue - 4 miles track. 1/2 mile warm up, 1 mile LT (5:32), 4 x 800 w/ 1:20 rest (2:38, 2:37, 2:37, 2:37), half mile cool down. Beginning to feel more comfortable at the track and moving faster than my usual 9 minute training pace. Encouraging workout. (Vas)

Wed - Off. Never found the time or motivation to sneak in a run.

Thurs am - 11 miles (2,000'). 1:36. Horsetooth course + some extra stuff tacked on. Legs really beginning to feel like their old selves. Some hamstring soreness from Tuesday's track session, but otherwise felt great. (CLs)

pm - 6 miles easy on Milner (500'). 45:50 (Vas)

Fri - 5 mile hike to top of Horsetooth Rock (1,600).

pm - 6 miles Milner (500'). 43:48. (Vas)

Sat - 12 miles up Signal Mountain (3,500'). Chad and I were back for some unfinished business on Signal. Got going at 6am for what turned out to be a beautifully rewarding run. The first two miles of trail from the Dunraven TH were horribly torn up by horse traffic, but once past the Doner Pass junction, it was steady up on creek-bed style trail through some silly inclines in places to a small alpine meadow and then to treeline. Once out of the trees, this trail opens up to reveal unbelievable views of the Continental Divide and lower FoCo-area peaks. This has to be one of, if not the, best climbs within striking distance of Fort Collins. The views really are outstanding, and while 3,500 feet of climbing may not be everybody's cup of tea, if you're into running uphill then this is a must do - like, must, must do - run. The peak tops out at 11,200 feet and offers easy access to other nearby peaks. Unfortunately we were under strict orders from our better halves to get home early, so couldn't explore, but this one day will be a killer launching point for an all-dayer in the Mummies. (CLs)

Sun - 0 miles. In Denver during the day watching Rockies game, among other things. Got back quite late and decided to not run because of some lower back pain from Saturday. Bit nervous about running Pikes tomorrow with this back thing (put me out for months and months last year), but I guess I'll take it easy and see how it feels.

Total: 52 miles (9,750').

WCs: 79 miles
CLs: 61 miles
Vas: 50 miles

Not a great week, but some good workouts in there. Going to run by feel from here until Pikes and not worry too much about mileage. I'll have what I have, and I'd rather compromise fitness than push through pain and fatigue, and risk injury. Feels like it's already been a long season.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Pikes Surprise

Much to my surprise, I got an email from Matt Carpenter this afternoon stating that my bid for a competitive entry into this year's Pikes Peak Ascent has been accepted. I put in for it just a few days before the deadline last week, thinking that I'd had a decent first half of the season and may sneak in if there weren't too many others looking to get a spot via the competitive entry process.

Anyway, the upshot of the recent news is that I'm going to have to get serious - quickly - about getting into high-altitude, mountain-running shape. I have exactly 23 days to get ready. I've already arranged with friends from the Fort Collins Trail Runners to head down early Monday morning for a jaunt up the mountain. This will be my first time running the trail up Pikes.

Lucky for me, I have a two-mile, 1,600' climb essentially out my front door in Horsetooth Mountain Park. I'll be doing repeats up Horsetooth at least a couple times a week for the next two weeks. In addition, I'll be running Longs with Ryan B, per a phone call this morning, and looking to do Evans or Greys if I can find the time. Failing that, I'll try to sneak some time up in Rocky Mountain National Park to get up on Flattop. Not much else I can do really with just over three weeks to go. Fortunately, I have a good base to pull from and I think my legs are close to fully recovered from Bighorn.

Goal? Top ten.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Looking for an Awesome Deal on a Pair of Sportiva Wildcats?

I started this blog primarily as a means of keeping track of my training and racing activities. I decided to put it in the public domain to add an extra element of peer accountability to my running. I've since found that writing full race reports and weekly training summaries has helped me tremendously in reflecting on what I am and am not doing right or wrong in racing and training. Whether or not people read what I write has largely been a secondary concern.

As it happens, however, a few trail-running souls (and supportive family members) have taken to reading my posts from time to time, and I'd like to repay your time with what I think is an unbeatable offer, in the form of an opportunity to pick up a pair of LaSportiva Wildcats cheaper than you'll find anywhere else ... online, in person, or otherwise (if you can actually find a pair at your local running store/outdoor retailer. I couldn't).

Look great, ride even better

I'd been eying these shoes long before I was fortunate enough to develop a relationship with the fine folks at Wilderness Running Company (WRC), who asked me to review a pair. The reason I never bit the bullet and bought the Wildcats was because I draw the line on shoe purchases at the three figure mark - no matter how sexy they might look - and these things retail at $100 across the board, with little to no exceptions.

From casual observation at recent trail running events, I can tell you that these shoes are already proving massively popular in their first year of availability. And for good reason. The shoe is remarkably comfortable and agile, while also managing to offer great cushioning and stability, all in a package that weighs in at a light (for trail runners) 12oz. And did I mention that they're an awfully good looking pair of shoes? I know, completely irrelevant to performance, but like good food, visual presentation is half the battle in getting a product sold (or eaten).

I wore these bad boys at the Leadville Marathon the other weekend (a tougher testing ground would be hard to find) and they performed to the max, with just a minor amount of slippage in the heel on really loose and steep descents (pretty much my only beef, and one that is easily remedied with an extra pair of socks or a tighter lace-up on the top two eyelets).

Minor slippage in the heel

Other than that, the shoes barely felt like they were there. They were surprisingly cushy, and the bite on the soles was highly aggressive. Given the rockiness of the course at Leadville, I was concerned that the all-mesh upper would take a beating and rip as other mesh shoes of mine have in the past. However, they came through 100% unscathed, despite numerous high-speed (all things being relative) jagged-edged rakes from the rock-strewn jeep tracks around Leadville. So, yes, I'm digging these shoes. Still not enough mileage on them to warrant a full-on review and and a confident thumbs up, but I'm getting close.

The 'paws' grip hard

Minimalist, but tough, bumper saved my toes a couple of times

So what's the deal and where can you find them? The location is Wilderness Running and their price until the end of the month is just $90. You may be able to find one or two other retailers that have begun discounting the shoe, but the $90 price tag is just the beginning. Use coupon code Nick10 at checkout and take an additional 10% off, while also enjoying free shipping and the joy of giving nothing to the government. That's right folks, $81 (out the door) gets you into a pair of these awesome Wildcats. AND THAT'S NOT ALL. Buy in July and you get a pair of the much-touted Drymax running socks thrown in for free ($12 value). AND THAT'S STILL NOT ALL. There's a ton of other stuff at WRC on sale through the end of the month, and the coupon code mentioned above is good on all of it, today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future.

AND THERE'S STILL MORE. The people at WRC are trail runners like you and me; they have a profound love for the sport, intimate knowledge of their product and a keen desire to please and see others enjoying the great outdoors at a speed faster than a hike. These guys carry nothing ... nothing ... but trail running gear. Check 'em out, they're working hard for your attention in these tough economic times.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Week Ending July 19

Mon - 8 miles (1,650 feet). Horsetooth/Audra. No watch, felt good and fresh. Pushed in places. (Vas)

Tues - 4 miles at track. 2k warm up (7:49). 8 x 400 (80, 79, 78, 79, 78, 74, 76, 74) on 85 rest. Cruised most of these, but pushed on last three, tied up on last. My legs were tired but not beaten up from Saturday's marathon.

Weds - 8 miles easy (1,650 feet). 1:17. Horsetooth/Audra. (WCs)

Thurs - 10 miles (1,800 feet). 1:35. Out with Sam M on Falls - Stout - Herrington - Towers - Westridge - H'tooth - home. (CLs)

Fri - 8 miles (1,650 feet) easy. 1:18. Horsetooth/Audra with Ryan and Jeremy. (Vas)

Sat - .5 mile warm-up. Loveland Classic 10k. Half mile warm down.

Sun - 8 miles easy (1,650 feet). (TS)

Total: 53 miles (9,400 vertical feet).

Mostly a maintenance week, with a couple of good speed workouts thrown in. I'm going to try to keep the mileage in the 50-60 zone for the next couple of weeks in a bid to shake out any remaining fatigue from the first half of '09, and then plan to focus on building some top-end speed (while the track is still fun) before beginning to ramp the mileage back up in August/September.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Loveland Classic 10k

Despite feeling completely raced out the last couple of weeks, I couldn't turn down the offer from Simon, of RunColo fame, for a last-minute comp into the Loveland Classic 10k. I ran it last year in a dismally slow time, so figured some redemption might be in order. Not having run a road 10k this year, I was mildly interested to see what my weary legs could produce, assuming my mind could muster the conviction to push through the discomfort of race pace.

A smallish crowd of maybe 200 runners showed up for the 7:00am start, with most looking like they were heading out for a morning jog. A couple of guys looked like they were there to race, so I lined up next to them as we waited for the off. I figured I would drop in behind them through the early going to see where the lead pace would be and how my body would react to the always uncomfortable first few hundred meters of a short road race.

After the gun, a pack of six or seven guys assumed the lead and set the early pace. From my vantage point a few meters back, it looked like two, maybe three of them would hold the pace. By the half-mile point my assumption was correct and I found myself in fifth with a couple of the rabbits quickly dropping back.

Went through the first mile, which was a net downhill, in 5:32 feeling very comfortable. I was pretty surprised to see the split as this pace a couple of weekends back at the Firekracker 5k had felt intolerable. Soon after the first mile, the 5k/10k split came, with just one guy peeling off for the shorter distance. Due to a lack of signage, I almost made a right onto the 5k course before hearing the girl at the intersection shout 10k runners to the left at the very last minute. I hit the breaks, made a quick 180 turn and got back on course. This, as it turned out, would be the first of many examples of what was either a hastily put together race or a race that simply lacked a dedicated race director with an attention to detail ... any detail.

After the split, there were just four guys in the race, with the lead runner about 20 meters up on me, and second and third equally gapped between myself and the lead. The mile two split came in at 5:45, which felt about right and still very comfortable. Considering the relative comfort I was running at, I decided to push the third mile as it gently gained a few feet of altitude. I had soon reeled in third and was sitting on second's shoulder as we went through the third mile in 5:42. Hmm, a possible shot at a 10k PR here, I thought to myself as I did some quick math in my head.

Mile four and five are always weak miles for me in 10k races, so I made a conscious decision as I passed mile three to up the tempo to see what kind of time I could push out. I briefly took up second, with first still a good 20 meters ahead, before running shoulder to shoulder with my competition for the day through the four-mile marker. Despite the extra effort, I assumed I was merely holding pace, so was pretty shocked to see a 5:21 split. There is no doubt in my mind that this mile was short.

Through the fifth mile, I was able to hold a good effort, but it wasn't strong enough to maintain contact with second who was now building a slow but steady lead on me. First place was gone. Mile 5 came in at 5:37 (another surprise) and I was beginning to feel like the course might be short.

Despite second guessing the course markers and whoever measured the course, I continued to push hard up the hill to the finish. Through the final mile, the 10k course rejoined the 5k course and I was supplied with a long line of 5k stragglers to target and pass to keep an honest effort going. To my surprise (yet again), mile six came in at 6:15 on what felt like my biggest effort of the morning. I was now deeply suspicious of the mile markers and the course in general.

By the time the finish-line clock came into focus, it was just ticking from 34-minute territory into the 35th minute, which meant my pre-race goal of a sub-36 was well and truly in the bag. I ended up crossing the line in 35:30, good for a 50 second PR.

Neither of the guys ahead of me had GPS watches on, so I waited around at the finish to see what runners with GPS technology were getting for course length. A survey of four watches confirmed that the course was short: anywhere from 6.10 to 6.14 in total distance. It might not sound like much, but when you've got a good run going and find that the course is short, it kind of deflates the contentment bubble a bit. Then when you find out that the 5k course was a QUARTER MILE long, you just throw up your hands in exasperation.

I hate to complain about a race that cost me nothing, but I feel terrible for the people who stumped up the cash for a compromised racing experience. I knew going in that the course was nothing but frontage and commercial roads - far from inspiring - but I don't typically run road races for the scenery, I run them to get a read on my fitness, and therefore expect an accurately measured course and a competent timing set up.

Taking the average from the Garmins (6.12 miles), I'm gonna call this a 36:00 10k, which according to McMillan is good for not much more than a 2:48 marathon. Although my legs were far from fresh this morning, I've still got a lot of work to do towards my goal for October. If I want a 2:39 marathon in Dublin, I need to be hitting a 16:30 5k, and at least a 34:30 10k. Much work to be done. You'll find me at the track.

Photo: CSU Athletics

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leadville Marathon

Time eases the memory of how difficult races are sometimes. It had been two years since my first Leadville Marathon (4:16), and my mind had taken that time to downplay the 26 miles up to Mosquito Pass (13,200') and back. I seem to do okay running and breathing at altitude, but find the extra effort heaviest on my legs. I went in thinking I was in 3:45 shape, but found out otherwise.

So I got out to Leadville late Friday afternoon, and managed to squeeze in a 40-minute run before heading to Quincy's Steakhouse for dinner, after finding the local brew pub and eatery had gone out of business a few months back. I enjoyed a Fat Tire and a decent prime rib dinner before making a quick trip to get some breakfast for the morning and then heading out to a spot near Turquoise Lake to bunk down for the night in the back of the truck.

Got up pretty early and headed to the Provin' Grounds at six for their first brew of the day. Saw Tony and Duncan there and chatted a bit about Hardrock. When we checked in on Tony's laptop, Karl was through the last aid station and well on his way to victory in what was obviously going to be a smoking-hot time. He's having a huge season and re-proving himself at the 100-mile distance race after race.

450 or so starters between the half and full. Not bad for a very tough mountain race.

So I was feeling pretty good before the gun, although not hugely motivated to get out there and hurt. Soon after the off, a pack of guys including Tony K, Duncan C, Bryan Dayton, Duncan Flanaghan, plus three or four others, formed a lead pack, all but one of whom made the turn onto the marathon course at the half/full split. I sat back, running with Sam Malmberg for a bit as we headed out of town. I was working hard to find my breathing while chatting with Sam, so slowed to let him pull ahead a bit. I was feeling decent, although not particularly energized as we made our way to the first big climb of the day, a 1,500' rocky and rutted jeep track climb.

Working up the climb to the Ball Mtn aid, I passed a couple of the guys who'd gotten out ahead of me in the early going and sat in seventh with an eye on Sam in fifth and a guy between us in sixth. I caught sixth climbing up to the singletrack after the Ball Mtn aid and ran with Sam for a bit before putting a gap on him through the singletrack.

Old mining shafts and mining debris litter the landscape around Leadville (pic: Sarah Ward)

After finishing the loop and coming back through the Ball Mtn aid the race heads down a mining road to the base of the trail up to Mosquito Pass. There's a long descending U turn halfway down where you have the opportunity to see runners up to six or seven minutes ahead of you. I could see everyone up front, and timed the gap from me to what turned out to be Dennis Flanghan in first at about 3:30. I felt like I was running at a good clip and at relative ease through the descent. I filled up on water at the aid before the three-mile, 2,000' push to Mosquito.

The Mosquito launching point (this and next three pics: Sarah Ward)

Steep, rocky and generally nasty

Most climbs have their rewards

Going into the race, I was fully expecting a strong climb and descent of Mosquito, but instead got off to a slow start through the mellower early grades as I fumbled around trying to get a packet of sports beans down. I should have been pushing hard here to get a good tempo going before the serious climbing began, but instead felt lackluster. Sam re-passed me halfway up the climb, and I tried my best to keep him in sight, pushing my heavy legs to keep his pace. Nearing the summit, the top four guys came through on their way back down. They were all evenly gapped, and it looked like Dennis had increased his lead over me to seven or eight minutes.

Duncan (2nd) with a gap on Tony (3rd) up Mosquito. Those placings would be switched by the time I saw them on their way down.

There were a bunch of half marathon runners hanging out at the top enjoying the enormous views of the Sawatch Range and getting nourishment when I got there. The views from the top are truly amazing and well worth the effort, however, I didn't linger and ran around a trash can - with no other obvious turnaround in sight - and headed back down.

On the climb I had noticed that the jeep track was a lot looser than I remembered, so on the drop I tried to hug the skinny dirt cambers to the mountain-side of the trail, as I thought they offered the best running, but I found the heavy angle on the camber painful after a while, so mostly I danced on the rocks. In addition to the loose footing, there were a ton of runners from both races making their way up, and runners from the half making their way down. It was pretty heavy traffic for most of the drop, which made finding efficient and safe lines that much tougher. Despite the hazards, however, I felt like I had a strong run through this section.

By the bottom aid I had caught back up with Sam, and we pushed on together on the 1,000' climb back up to Ball Mtn. About halfway through the climb Bryan came into view, and Sam pushed ahead while I eased off to save some energy for the trip around Ball and the last four miles of screaming descent, sitting a steady 20 meters behind Bryan. I passed him before the Ball aid and got out soon after Sam, who I also passed on the climb up the backside of the loop. I caught a glimpse of Duncan here, near the top of the singletrack, and figured he was maybe four minutes ahead.

This gave me some energy, so I started my final push at the top of the Ball loop in an effort to lose Bryan, who didn't look to be too far back on me, and maybe catch Duncan. I hit the drop with what felt like a pretty strong effort and ran the majority of the last two uphill grunts before the drop back down to Leadville.

At the last aid, I felt like I had at least a couple of minutes on Bryan, but still pushed hard to make sure. On tired legs this drop is probably more treacherous than the Mosquito drop, but I felt like I had good strength left and was able to run at a decent pace.

In the end, I was happy to find the energy and motivation to stay competitive for fourth place through the last seven miles, but felt a bit disappointed with my time after crossing in 3:54. I was happy to get in under four hours, but couldn't help feeling I would have had a better run in me six or seven weeks back. Dennis crushed Paul Dewitt's course record by seven minutes in a time of 3:32, and Tony wasn't far off, maybe a minute behind Paul's mark.

I caught up with Nick Pedatella and Caroline Soong after the race, and we decided to get together early the next morning for a hike up, and run down Mount Elbert (14,433').

Caroline, Nick & Nick

Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest peak from the end of Halfmoon Creek Road

Zoomed in

Mount Elbert and Mount Massive

We all had remarkably fresh legs when we met the next morning, and got to the summit at a good clip, running down without too much bother.

Nick and Caroline just above treeline
Looking back down to Twin Lakes

Great workout for those two the day after the marathon as they prepare for LT100 next month.

The requisite summit shot

Peaks everywhere

All in all, it was another great running weekend in Leadville, the home of U.S. high-altitude endurance sports. I met up with a bunch of friends from the area and also from previous races, while also making a few new ones. Got to love this sport, the people and the places we get to run.

I'll be back in Pb'ville to pace Harry 'the mouth' Harcrow in the 100 miler next month.

Week Ending July 12

Mon - 8 miles (1,650 feet) easy. 1:17/ Horsetooth/Audra route. (CLs)

Tues - 4.5 miles track. 800 warm up (3:03); 3 x 1,600 (5:37 (3:00), 5:40 (2:53), 5:40); one mile warm down. Felt decent - much better than 5k race on July 4. Ran mile repeats at 85% or so.

Weds - 7 miles easy (1,500) with Chad. (WCs)

Thurs - 8 miles (1,650). 1:08. Worked the downs in prep for Leadville and also to make sure the Wildcats are going to work without too much slippage on the downs. (WCs)

Fri - 5 miles easy in Leadville (500). (WCs)

Sat - 26 miles. Leadville Marathon (6,000 feet). 3:54. (WCs)

Sun - 9 miles. Hiked Mount Elbert, ran down. 3:10. (4,500 feet).

Total: 68 miles (15,800 feet of vertical gain).

Wow, big climb week at high altitude. Despite all the hills I climb in training, I felt like the climbing was my main weakness during the Leadville Marathon this weekend. Was reduced to a walk for at least 20% of the climb up Mosquito, and in places through the last few grunts of the race. Yes, this is a tough, energy-zapping race, but I really thought my climbing would be stronger. Perhaps the one positive on the climb front was that I was climbing harder and deeper through the last quarter than the two guys I was racing for fourth, so maybe it all evened out and I would have been in bigger trouble late if I'd pushed Mosquito harder.

I still feel like I'm missing a certain zip in my stride since Bighorn. Everything feels okay, just a general lack of energy and desire to push hard. Burnout? Could be.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Leadville Marathon Preview

The 2007 Leadville Marathon was just my second Colorado trail race after moving here from New York City in October 2006. At the time, I was pretty excited to get across the finish line of the high-altitude lung buster (topping out at 13,200') in 4:16, which was good for sixth on that day. It also turned out to be my last race before a debilitating back injury that had me on the sidelines from late July '07 to April '08 - almost nine months with nary a step run.

The fitness rebuilding process was a reasonably fast one, and by the fall of last year I found myself in decent racing shape, with perhaps my best run coming at Steamboat - my first ever 50 miler - where I finished 10 minutes back on Ryan Burch for third. Since Steamboat I've been able to build my fitness to new levels. After a really solid winter of base training and a spring of high miles focused on running ultra-distance events, I'm really excited to springboard to the second half of the year, with a focus on faster, shorter races.

So the trip to Leadville this weekend will bring me full circle to where I was two years ago. Not only was the marathon my last meaningful race before injury, but I was also just a month away from toeing the line for my first 100. While I did start the Leadville 100, my body was severely compromised and I ended up dropping at the Fish Hatchery, just 25 miles into the race. Those were the last miles I ran before the spring of '08. Now, with the 100-mile distance checked off the list just three weeks ago, and my body back in shape, I'm excited to see how much faster I can run this course than in '07. I am fully confident that I am fitter and faster than I was two years ago, but the question I want answered is by how much?

The Goals

1. Beat my 4:16 and sixth-place finish from '07
2. Break 4 hours
3. Finish top three
4. Break 3:45
5. Win
6. Set course record (Paul DeWitt, 3:39)

In setting goals, I like to reach. I'm a believer that if you set tough goals, you'll train and race harder to meet them. I'm reasonably confident I can take down the first three goals, although #3 is somewhat out of my hands depending, as it does, on who shows up, but 4-6 are definitely stretch goals. Hopefully I'll be able to meet one of them and come away from the race with a grade of at least 66 percent.

The Competition

The organizers of the Leadville biking and running races do a great job putting on their events - an excellent job in fact; however, they come up short on their use of modern technologies. An increasing number of races are putting entrant lists up before their events start, but Leadville continues to resist (or not bother). As such, it took a bit of internet sleuthing to figure out who may or may not be running.

Here's what I know: Duncan Callahan (Leadville 100 winner '08, Fruita 25 winner '09) has the event listed on his blog-based racing schedule; Bryan Dayton (Mount Evans Ascent winner '09, 4th '08) is looking to take down the course record, according to a news release announcing the Vasque trail running team; Corey Hanson (four-time winner of the Horsetooth Trail Half and local speedster) will be there kicking off his quest for Leadman'dom; Anton Krupicka is in town and in training for the Leadville 100 next month, making it not beyond the realms of possibility that he'll run. Other speedsters may or may not show up; however, the prize money on offer at the Barr Trail Mountain Race is the biggest pull for trail runners this weekend.

If all four of those guys show up at the start line on Saturday, which I hope they do, my hopes of finishing top three will quickly become a stretch goal, but certainly still within the realms of possibility, while my goal of winning would become a long shot. So we'll see.

Regardless of the competition, I'm excited to be injury free and in good shape right now. The biggest race for me out there on Saturday will be against the clock and my trail-running neophyte of a ghost from two years ago. Bring It On.

Monday, July 6, 2009

One Weekend, Two Outrageous Races: The Hard and the Bad

Ultra running is a great sport full of great characters and unbelievable feats of human endurance. If there were to be one weekend that summed up the extremes of an already extreme sport, this would have to be the one: Hardrock and Badwater within days of each other!

First up, beginning this Friday, is the famed Hardrock 100. For those familiar with the US ultra scene, this race needs little introduction, but for those less familiar with mountain 100s, suffice to say that the Hardrock loop across the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado boasts a total elevation gain of approximately 33,000 feet and an average elevation of 11,186 feet above sea level, rising to above 14,000' on Handies Peak. This thing is a lung-busting beast. Entrants have a total of 48 hours to get it done.

After the excitement of Kyle Skaggs' demolition of the old course record last year, the race for first looks to be a little less predictable this year. Here are some names I recognize as characters or contenders (in alphabetical order):

Kirk Apt - I stayed with Kirk and his wife Keith down in Fruita this spring for the Spring Desert Ultra. During the stay, I learned that Kirk will be toeing the line in Silverton for the 15th time on Friday, which means that he will have started every single Hardrock, failing to finish just once. He's won both Hardrock and Leadville through the course of his career, with, I think, close to 15 finishes at Leadville in addition to his 13 at Hardrock. Kirk is from the old skool and loves the mountains. He won't win, but he'll have a good time getting it done and finishing top ten.

Ryan Burch - Ryan is going into this race with an eye toward exorcising a few 100-mile demons and enjoying the San Juans, a mountain range he loves. He's proven at the 50-mile distance, having won a number of events in the region, has good leg speed (2:45 marathon) and great downhill eyes and feet. He's gonna go out conservative, but if things fall into place, he could be the sleeper who kicks it into high gear late in the race.

Jared Campbell - Don't know him personally, but I've certainly seen his name at or near the top of many a 100-mile and 50-mile race. He's gotten it done in Silverton before, coming fourth last year and in 2007. Has to be considered among the favorites.

Helen Cospolich - A mountain girl who loves to run and win long-distance races. I've run a couple of 50-mile races this year in which she has blown away the women's field, setting a course record at Collegiate Peaks 50 and winning handily at the Fruita 50. In addition, she won Leadville last year. She never looks to be running that fast, which is probably a pretty good qualification for Hardrock.

Ricky Dennesik - Like Campbell, Dennesik has course knowledge, finishing third last year. Based on that alone, I say he has to be considered a favorite.

Diana Finkel - Another veteran of the circuit and also last year's winner. The one to beat in the female division.

Roch Horton - Another guy from the old skool whose name has appeared on the results sheet of just about every 100-mile race in the country. A perennial top-ten finisher at Hardrock, look for him to keep that streak alive.

Scott Jaime - Again, don't know him personally, but from following his blog for the last few months, I'd have to say he goes in as a favorite. He was second last year, admittedly 6.5 hours back on Skaggs and only just dipping under 30 hours, but he appears to be much fitter this year and has trained with great specificity for this race. He'll be tough to beat if he fires on all cylinders.

Andy Jones Wilkins - AJW just got done tearing it up at Western States eight days ago, finishing in a strong 10th place (male div). Not the fastest out there, but this guy has run something like 25 100 milers, winning many, stats that have to make him a contender. He won't make the mistake of going out too fast and will likely catch runners late in the race. If he's recovered from States, I put him top three.

Karl Meltzer - Like AJW, Meltzer hardly needs an introduction. Suffice to say he's won this thing four times before and is a former course record holder. He ain't gonna get in under 24 hours, but based on current form, I'd say he has a shot at running the second fastest time ever recorded.

Betsy Nye - Another old skooler who knows how to get it done at Hardrock. Look for a top-three finish.

Paul Sweeney - Don't know much about Paul other than he won in '04.

Wait List

John Anderson and Bryan Goding both have a chance of running, based on their wait-list spots, if they show up in Silverton on Thursday. I think John is planning on it, and know that Bryan will be there. If John runs, he's definitely a contender for first. If Bryan gets in, he could easily finish top five.

Honorable Mention

Brownie - He's been talking smack for months. Let's see what he's got.


Before getting out there and pacing and crewing for Alene Nitzky last year, I thought this race was for the crackpots only. I still do to a certain degree, but I have a lot more respect for the race and the mind-blowingly beautiful Death Valley after experiencing it first hand. I wound up pacing Alene for the last 45 miles (all hiking). She got in under 48 hours for the buckle finish.

We drank a lot of water over the course of two days

Just keep moving

Rest too long and it's hard to get going again, especially after 90 miles

Day two - the long march to Whitney

Just a few more miles of climbing

Alene had been talking non-stop for hours about that tree!


The race starts at the lowest point in the lower 48 and continues 135 miles to Whitney Portal, which serves as the trailhead for an 11 mile hike to the highest point in the continental U.S. As originally conceived, the race finished at the peak of Mount Whitney. Due to permit restrictions, the official race has been cut short (!) at the 135-mile mark. The hardest of the hardcore keep running once they cross the official finish line and don't stop until they get to 14,500 feet above sea level, having started in the desert at 280 feet below sea level.

The more interesting women's race is Jamie Donaldson's to lose, and I'd say she has an outside shot at winning the whole thing. However, she'll be pushed hard by Pam Reed, who she beat out for first last year, and Monica Schultz. Pam has won this thing many times before (outright in '02 & '03) and Monica has two wins, so if things head south for Jamie, as they most certainly could in what looks like it may be a 130 degree year, either Pam or Monica could win it.

The men's race is Jorge Pacheco's to lose. He's the defending champ and doesn't look to have too much competition this year - from what I can tell. I guess I should probably mention Dean Karnazes as he is by far the best-known name in ultra running, and a former winner at Badwater, but he won't be winning anything this year. Could be good for second in the men's race, but will be beaten by Jamie as he was last year, if Jorge drops or crumbles.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Week Ending July 5

Mon - 8 miles easy (1,650 feet)

Tues - 3.5 miles. 1,000 warm-up, 5 x 600 (2:00-2:03), mile warm down. (WCs)

Weds - Off

Thurs - 10 miles (3,000 feet). Round Mountain TT. (CLs)

Fri - Off

Sat - 4 miles. Mile warm up. FireKracker 5k. (WCs)

Mother Nature put on her own light show just before the fireworks:

Sun - 17 miles (2,000 feet). 2:26. Home to Blue Sky - Indian Summer - Loveland ridge & back. (VQ)

Total: 42.5 (6,500 vertical feet).
Wildcats - 7.5 miles
Crosslites - 10 miles
Vasque - 17 miles

A lower-mileage week with the emphasis on leg turnover. With Bighorn in the rear-view mirror, I am trying to focus on building some speed and having fun at shorter races. I'm setting my sights on a sub-17 5k and a sub-2:40 marathon on the roads, while competing well at marathon and shorter trail races. I'm scrubbing the Leadville Silver Rush 50 from my race schedule as it serves no purpose towards those goals and will just leave me with a two-week post race period where I would be trying to recover while also train, and those two don't mesh too well - as I am currently finding out.

I'm hoping I'll be good to go for the marathon next weekend, and plan to take the second half of the week very easy in a bid to get to the start line with legs that are somewhat fresh. Today's semi-long run felt decent, if not great, so we'll see.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

FireKracker 5k

Didn't happen today. Went into this race thinking I had a realistic shot at dipping under 17 minutes, but in the end came up way short; content to get a decent faster workout in.

The FireKracker 5k is put on by the Fort Collins Running Club, and is one of the bigger races on the local road-racing calendar. Today there were a total of 992 runners signed up for the annual athletic celebration of independence from the Mad King.

I lined up at the front determined to take it easy through the first few hundred meters. With the big crowd, there was bound to be some talent in the field, and right from the gun I found myself 15 to 20 runners back. Despite starting out slower than I normally would for a 5k, I immediately knew it was going to be a rough 3.1 miles. The legs had nothing for me and my breathing was all over the place.

Went through the first mile in 5:27, which was on pace for the 16:5x, but I knew I wasn't going to hold it. To make matters worse, I was running in no man's land between a pack of four ahead and a gap to runners behind - nobody to pull me. From the mile, I was able to reel in just one runner, and it had nothing to do with my speed, rather his over-exuberance from the gun - he was breathing hard.

I felt myself getting lazy through mile two, and watched the four guys in front slowly build their lead on me. I wasn't surprised to see that I had slowed by 30 seconds over the second mile (5:57). Lucky for me, a guy with some pep in his stride came breezing by at the two-mile point and I was able to tow his pace through the final mile (5:45). I wanted to race the last .1 for the sake of it, but had nothing left in the tank. In fact, some sneaky little kid whizzed by me with 50 meters to go. I'm pretty sure I could have fended him off, had I known, but by the time he was by me it was way too late, and I jogged in for a 17:52 finish.

Disappointing to say the least, but a definite indication that the legs are not fully recovered from Bighorn, the track workout on Tuesday and the time trial up Round on Thursday. I'm sure I could dig deep for some more excuses, but those will have to do for now. On the plus side, I beat my neighbor Kenny (15:05 in college) to even up our head to head over this course at one win each. I'll be looking to settle the series on an as-yet-undecided course.

The highlight of the morning was Alistair's first ever race in the kid's event, in which he held off some serious female competition through the last 20 meters. Way to keep the male ego intact, son!

I think my best course of action in getting ready for next weekend's Leadville Marathon is to take it easy and get lots of rest. Hopefully, there will be a little more in the tank for me than there was today at the halfway as I make my way back down from the turn at Mosquito Pass.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Round Mountain Summer Time Trial

Last time I chased Round Mountain, in January, I was pretty pleased to get up the 4.75 miles and 3,000 feet of rocky, switchback-laden singletrack in under an hour (58:23), but at the time I figured I was good for at least a sub-55-minute ascent with increased fitness and better, snow-free conditions. I decided to take a stab at the 55-minute goal last night. I was joined by Jonathan Zeif, who is in training for his tenth Journey Across the Sky in Leadville this summer. If successful, which he will be, J.Z. will bring home the coveted (and ridiculously large) 1,000-mile belt buckle.

The conditions at 6:30 on this evening were overcast and spitting rain - pretty good considering it could have been sweltering or massively stormy. As usual, I didn't much feel like embarking on an hour of hurt, but that's what mountain racing is all about (once you find your threshold and rhythm, it's never that bad).

Through the first mile, I was huffing and puffing, feeling slow and generally out of sorts. I was surprised then to see my one-mile split at 10:09, which was a minute faster than last time. Hmm, effort felt hard, but sustainable. I was going to wait for the two-mile split before calling this one a PR'able run.

Second, and toughest, mile came in at 11:53, another minute quicker than last time. I had found my groove and knew that a PR and FKT was in the cards. My effort felt similar to my run in January, so I concluded that I was simply a minute per mile fitter over this climb than I was in the winter. The third mile, which includes some flatter and faster sections, in addition to some of the steeper switchbacks on the climb, came in at 10:35; 90 seconds up on January. Now it was just a matter of maintaining the effort and seeing where I could shave some extra seconds with increased push. I decided to stay steady on mile four, hitting the split at 11:04 (one minute faster again), and then push the final 3/4 of a mile with whatever I had left.

The final stretch has probably the steepest climbing of the whole run, but it also has the best footing so you can really push if you have anything left. I felt like I still had some good push in me, so put my head down and ground out what I could, which turned out to be a 9:13 last split (another minute shaved) for a total run time of 52:55, or a 5:20 PR and new fastest-known time (FKT) for local runners who keep track of such things.

Very pleased with this run and the evidence that I'm in good aerobic shape despite significantly reduced mileage in the weeks either side of Bighorn. My legs felt great, so appear to be back on track after the beating they took two weeks ago, although I'm fully aware that they're probably not entirely healed. I plan to take it very easy after the Leadville Marathon next weekend to let everything repair properly before shifting my focus to the roads, and the beginning of a training cycle that will hopefully culminate in a sub-2:40 run at the Dublin Marathon in October.

I wore the Crosslites for their first outing since I got them the other day. Unfortunately I had the laces pulled too tight, so suffered through numb feet for most of the run. In addition, I had some pain in my right arch because of the narrow fit. On the plus side, the shoes are like none I have ever run in before, both in terms of lightness of feel and in flexibility across the whole shoe. I know La Sportiva build rock climbing shoes, so I couldn't help feeling that the fit of the Crosslites kind of felt that way: tight and flexible. These shoes are going to take some getting used to, but once I've figured out the right tension to put on the laces, and find trust in the flexibility of the shoe, I think they're going to rock as much as I thought they would when I got them out of the box for the first time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Perfect Mountain Running Shoe?

I'm not one to get too excited about trail running shoes, or running shoes in general, but wow! I've been blown away by a pair of La Sportiva Crosslites. Out the box, these things looked aggressive, light and sharp, and the feel once on was exactly what a mountain running shoe should feel like: tight, without being constrictive while also maintaining a degree of flex for the toes; all characteristics that prevent blister-inducing foot slippage within the shoe on quick and rocky descents, while also allowing for great responsiveness to the trail. The tread looks out of this world and super aggressive with heavy, durable spike-like lugs forming deep and wide grooves for maximum grip. Nice!

Untested as yet, but they sure look and feel aggressive. They'll be spending a lot of time going up Horsetooth in the coming months (just visible in the background).

A word of thanks here to Stacy from Wilderness Running for taking the time to exchange multiple emails with me in pursuit of the perfect mountain racing shoe from his stocked selection. These guys deal exclusively in trail running shoes and gear (the only such retailer I know of), so they know their stuff. In addition to the Crosslites, I also picked up a pair of Vasque Celerators (a new lighter-weight trail racer) and a pair of La Sportiva Wildcats (oh, and the running socks they give away with every pair of shoes) in return for a bit of work I did for them. Nice deal. I'll be offering some thoughts on all three shoes, as I get a feel for them, both here and at the Wilderness Running website.

The Wildcats are the only shoes I have run in thus far - they arrived yesterday - and I'm sad to say they got their debut outing at ... the track, a place I hadn't seen in over ten months until last night. Five-time marathon Olympic trials qualifier, Jane Welzel, was leading the session and there was a turn-out of probably 40+ runners. Fort C is just a great all-around outdoors town.

The yellow cat paws were stained red by the track. They're looking forward to tracking some dirt.

Anyway, the Wildcats felt solid and light, if a little more roomy and jiggly than the Crosslites. I have a feeling, and hope, these shoes are going to be my go-to daily runner. They're designed to offer a little more cushioning than the brand's race shoes, so hopefully they'll stand up well to many hundred miles of rocky mountain trail.

The Vasque feel a little stiff walking around, but they're lightweight and should be a decent shoe - hopefully an excellent shoe - once warmed up. We'll see.

Untested as yet, but a little stiff out the box.

A note on sizing: I typically run in a 9.5 shoe, but have consistently found Vasque shoes to run big by at least a half size, which means I wear a 9.0 Vasque. The Sportiva's use European sizing to allow for slightly more subtle distinctions between sizes. I ordered a 42.5 (between a 9 and 9.5, but closer to 9.5) and they fit like a glove, er, sock.

The early odds for my top pick from the three are heavily in favor of the Crosslite from an initial out-the-box feel, but it's early in the race and I need to see how each shoe holds up to a couple hundred miles of gnarly trail and a few races before calling a winner. The Crosslites go out tomorrow night for a time trial up Round Mountain. Can't wait.