Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Western States 2011

I knew I was overthinking things when I decided two days before the race that I would run in a pair of Pearl shoes that I rarely, if ever, use. I thought they would offer the best traction for the heavy snow through the early part of the course and considered that a worthwhile risk to take. For some unknown reason I had become obsessed with the snow and had seemingly forgotten that I had logged hundreds of miles through the snow in my preferred, yet lightly lugged, 100-mile shoe.

I knew I was being ridiculous, yet I couldn't let it go. By Thursday, I had narrowed possible shoe choices to eight different models and prototype iterations (yes I brought eight pairs of shoes with me to California). Finally, on Friday I recovered my senses and made the call to wear the Fuel XCs, the same shoe I use for all my longer distance races. With that decision made, there was very little else left to think about or that I really wanted to think about with regards to the journey from Squaw Valley to Auburn the next day. I mean it always transpires the same way. You fret about the most ridiculous minutiae and then on race day the gun goes off and you are instantly reminded of how simple our sport is.

It's just running, dude!

Before I knew it, we were lined up and ready to go: 3-2-1-boom. Nothing to do now but run, eat and drink for the next 16 hours.

From the off, it was Geoff, Kilian, myself and Adam Lint in a small lead pack on the opening climb to High Camp. Looking back on the switchbacks, there were plenty of guys lined up behind in wait. The mood seemed light. Geoff, Kilian and I enjoyed a bit of banter as we zigged and zagged our way up and into the snow, with the Spaniard even fielding a brief phone call from France after a phone was thrust into his hand by his manager.

Kilian, Adam, me and Geoff in the early going up the ski hill.

Killian fielding a phone call from his shoe guy, 'Fred,' in France

Photos: Scott Sandow

Within the first five minutes of snow running it was quite apparent that the snow section was actually going to be quite fun. It had been cool enough overnight that there was a good crusty top to the surface that was providing ample traction, despite the overall icy nature of the snow. Versus last year, I think the running through the high country was probably a little better, as there was very little run-off to deal with and things were generally firmer. That said, there was way more snow. In addition, some of the side hills were incredibly treacherous and, dare I say, a little concerning from a safety perspective. So maybe 5 minutes slower overall.

After one of my four or five spills on the snow, maybe half way to dry land, Geoff and Kilian got ahead of Adam and I, forging an out-of-sight gap. Not long thereafter, Dave Mackey joined us and we worked together sighting the tough-to-pick-out light yellow flagging. It wasn't long until we realized that we were no longer following tracks, leading to the obvious conclusion that Geoff and Kilian had lost the flagging somewhere. Meanwhile Dave was building a bit of a gap on Adam and me. He too was out of sight before long.

After losing the flagging ourselves for a couple of minutes, a group of guys including Geoff and Kilian caught back up to us as we made our way onto the jeep track down to French Meadows Reservoir. Last year, this had been totally clear, but we still had to negotiate an extra two or three miles of snow before we were finally clear of it and could get into a proper running rhythm.

Dave was out of sight ahead, and it was me and Kilian leading the charge in second and third on the fast campground road section down to the Poppy trailhead. The pace felt a lot more reasonable than last year, and I'm guessing we were moving 10-15 seconds slower per mile. Through these miles, I had a good chance to catch up with Kilian and discuss races (among other things). One nugget I will share is that both Hardrock and Pikes Peak are on his near-term radar, as are the names Kyle Skaggs and Matt Carpenter, in addition to the times of 23:23, 15:42 and 2:01. Enough said on that front.

So we bop around the reservoir on the gently rolling Poppy Trail, before climbing up the distinctly cleaner exposed cut through the Red Star burn area to the Duncan aid station at 24 miles (under noticeably cooler conditions than last year). Kilian, as he would much of the day, followed a step behind me the whole way. Coming into the aid, I was feeling a bit out of sorts. My right glute was burning worse than it had in months, my stomach was feeling a little off and then all of a sudden as I stopped to refuel both my legs start cramping - calves, hamstrings, glutes, left, right, everything. Just a big old wobble.

Coming up towards the Duncan aid.

To say this was a little concerning would be an understatement. This was a potential race killer and we weren't even beyond training-run distance. I immediately reassessed my pit stop and grabbed a handful of S-Caps, downing probably five while also gobbling a gel and a bunch of fruit. The extra time in the aid station allowed the chase pack to catch up, and as we headed out on the re-route section new to this year's course, it was myself, Kilian, Geoff, Hal, Timmy Olson and Mike Wolfe running as a pack. Apparently Dave had made an extra turn somewhere between Talbot and Duncan, so we were running as the lead pack.

After a brief road stint we were routed onto a section of doubletrack jeep road down towards Duncan Creek. Coming back up we made a right at a T intersection where we were supposed to have made a left. In our defense, there was flagging hanging from a tree branch to the right and nothing to the left, so not a total bone-headed wrong turn. By the time we hit the paved Mosquito Ridge road at the top it was apparent that we were off course, and so we turned around, retraced our steps back down to the T and realized that the flagging had originally been extended across the intersection to prevent such a turn, but had been pulled down somehow (probably an animal) such that it hung from a branch as if to indicate a right turn.

Annoying, but not devastating. Yes we were 15 minutes off course, but at least we were all in the same boat.

Heading up the correct route to Mosquito Ridge, the group broke up a bit with Mike, myself, Kilian and Timmy overtaking Dave (who was now back on course after his wrong turn that seemingly cost him a similar amount of time) near the top, and somewhat surprisingly dropping Hal and Geoff. Hal would be slow on the climbs all morning but would catch back up on the downs; Geoff I wouldn't see again until the finish.

The aid station volunteers informed us that four guys had been through before us. And so we began the process of reeling them back into the fold. By Millers Defeat, we (Mike, Hal, Kilian and me) had picked up my buddies Scott Jaime and Ryan Burch, leaving just Mike Foote and Jez Bragg to catch. Our pack of four split a bit heading down to Dusty Corners, but regrouped by the time we got to Last Chance. Readying for the drop into Deadwood Canyon and the climb back up to Devils Thumb, we had just Jez left to catch.

Somewhere between Mosquito Ridge and Last Chance.

We dropped into the canyon as a group of four and then proceeded to separate as the climb began. Mike and Kilian took off running hard immediately, while Hal and I seemed happy to let them go. I ran maybe half of the climb, but was in no hurry to kill myself getting up the steeper pitches. Near the top, Jez finally came back into view and things started to feel well with the world again.

The cramping had largely subsided, my belly was happy and I had finally made up for the wrong turn by taking back the final position that we had given up on the re-route. With that said, there was still plenty of work to be done and all manner of things that could still go wrong, not to mention that there was a need to reel back in a Spaniard and a Montanan. Oh, and a Brit and an Oregonian too, because Jez and Hal were more efficient through the aid than me.

I ran solo on the flat to rolling stuff leading to the drop into El Dorado Canyon, but soon caught Jez on the 2,000'+ descent. Not far out from the creek, I heard a series of cheers which I timed at 1-3 minutes, so I knew I was still in touch with the front of the race. At the creek aid station, Hal was still lingering and I was able to nudge out before him, deciding early that I was going to run the whole climb to see if I couldn't get a little separation on Hal and close the gap to Mike and Kilian.

By the top of the climb I had lost Hal and reeled in Mike, moving into second in the process. When I caught Mike, he was in run/hike mode on some pretty mellow stuff, so I assumed he was dealing with some issues. The Michigan Bluff aid transition (55) wasn't the smoothest, so I actually left in fourth with Jez and Mike getting out before me.

Up to this point, through the worst of the canyons, the heat had really been a non issue. Yes, it was hot, but we weren't dealing with an inferno. My cramping was now well behind me as I set out in pursuit of Mike on the road to Volcano Canyon. After some flagging confusion (ie, there was none) which caused Mike and me to backtrack for a couple of minutes before turning around again after bumping into Hal who told us we were in fact on course, I put a gap on both Mike and Hal. I assumed at that point that those two were out of the hunt for podium places and it was just me, Kilian, Jez and whoever else was running well behind (Timmy Olson, in particular was on my mind).

Love the vintage look - so Western. Coming into Foresthill at the 100k mark. Photo: Clynton

Foresthill (62) was smooth. I got the update that Jez and Kilian were running together about five minutes ahead of me. I picked up Nick Pedatella, my first pacer on the day and got down to the business of covering the crux miles between Foresthill and the Middle Fork of the American River (78). Still feeling strong, I was confident that I would be reeling Jez and Kilian in long before the river as I had been running the downs stronger than them all day.

Nick got me on a strict 25-30 minute gel regimen and we boogied on down. By Cal 1, we had halved the gap. Just as we were coming into Cal 2, having run the rollers well, we caught up to Jez, passing before the aid, where we also saw Kilian. Kilian and his pacer Rickey Gates (running with a mini video camera on a stick) got out first, but I was soon on them.

Rather than slot in behind, I decided to see if I could build a gap, as I was sure that Kilian would be working the climbs harder than me. I put the jets on a bit and forged into the lead. As expected, Kilian did not let me go. On what AJW calls the six-minute hill (a grunter before Cal 3), Kilian was still right behind. I had no intention whatsoever of running this one, so had to just sit back and watch Kilian take off at a very impressive clip. Nonetheless, I was back on Kilian by Cal 3 and we essentially ran together to the river, picking up Hoka CEO Nico Mermoud (out run spectating) along the way.

Vid: Real Endurance

As the excellent video above shows, Kilian (and his entourage) got into a boat a few seconds before me (with Nick and Nico). Mike and Jez were just boarding on the other side of the river as I was getting out (although I had no idea at this point that Mike was in the mix).

I knew I wouldn't be seeing Kilian on the run up to Green Gate, so after hiking the early grunt out of the river, I ran easy up to the aid station with Nick and Jake (who would take over pacing from Nick). When I say 'easy,' by the way, I am referring to pace as I was a little disconcerted at the lack of pop in my legs. Sitting down in that boat, even if for just a minute, seemed to have really put the funk in my legs. Through the second mile of the climb, I was able to pick things up a bit, but I think that was just because the grade mellowed out.

Hoofin' up to Green Gate. Photo: Meagan Hicks at iRunFar.

At Green Gate, I was a reported two minutes behind Kilian. I figured I still had a shot at winning, but for some obscure reason I couldn't drum up the adrenaline rush that I normally get with situations like this. I mean c'mon: biggest race of the season, two minutes behind an emerging legend, playing for all the marbles, and all I could think about was how bad my shredded feet were hurting. I toyed with the idea of popping some Tylenol, but stuck to my principles on that matter and decided to endure without.

On the buffed out rolling singletrack to ALT (85), I was able to find a decent groove. Jake gave me some intermediate splits at between 8:30 and 8:45 pace, with some slower, hillier miles thrown in there too. I felt decent about the pace, which was about as good as I could muster, but had a feeling that it just wasn't going to get the job done. At this point, I was thinking that my best chance of victory would come from a Kilian implosion. Remembering back to last year, I knew that wasn't out of the question.

And then my wheels came off.

Mike, like a Phoenix from the fire came cruising into ALT just as I was on my way out. I couldn't believe it. Jake and I had heard voices across the canyon but it was impossible to tell if they were coming from nearby or a long way on the other side. Not long after ALT, Mike came cruising by at a pace that I just couldn't latch on to. It's not that I had completely imploded by this point, but I was most definitely on the edge.

At Brown's Bar (90) I was still (technically) in the hunt. Mike was still there and we were told that Kilian was three minutes ahead of us. However, I just couldn't find that spot in my head that I found last year where I was able to shut everything out of my mind and grind through immense pain in pursuit of a white lycra-clad Spaniard.

The smile hides the pain as we pull into Highway 49. Photo: Meagan Hicks at iRunFar.

I was dreading the rocky climb up to Highway 49. My feet were jabbing with pain and every angled foot plant was just excruciating. I was stumbling around like a drunk man, just trying to get to the finish without doing too much more damage. I felt guilty for my weakness. I wanted to give Jake - a young, talented and highly enthusiastic ultrarunner - a finish to remember, but I just couldn't find that killer gear.

And that was my race. Fortunately, I was able to hold on for third, just five minutes ahead of Jez.

Photo: Meagan Hicks at iRunFar.

Irunfar interview here if you want a verbal blow by blow on the race.

Jake's take for a pacer's read on the last 20 miles.

I'm probably running out of chances, but maybe one day I'll find a way to beat this extraordinary talent. Photo: Auburn Journal

Nothing more needs to be said about Kilian that hasn't already been said. He is a very gifted runner with a competitive drive that is quite remarkable to watch. Mike Wolfe, who I had never run against before, really impressed me with his finish. Quite clearly he ran a great race, working through some adversity along the way. His finish from Foresthill was hugely impressive - to say the very least.

I'm not quite sure why, but I wasn't particularly concerned about Jez as a factor in the race in the days leading up. He absolutely proved me wrong out there. I figured he was done once we caught back up to him on Devil's Thumb, but he was out there all day running a calculated and very well-paced race. The guy was steady all day long. Much respect.

But far and away (on the men's side), I am most impressed with The JW. His passion for this race is unsurpassed, and his drive to maintain a position among the top-10 finishers is an inspiration to watch. I was fortunate enough to hang out with Andy for a couple of days pre-race and I watched him spend hours devising a pacing plan that he thought would be good enough for a top-10 finish. I thought his 16:45 goal was aggressive, to say the least, but as I tell anyone who asks, aggressive goals are the only types of goals I think are worth setting when it comes to ultrarunning. Not only did Andy get his top-10 spot (against a field of guys who on paper should have destroyed him), but he was well under his goal. Anyone looking for inspiration should look no further.

As for me, well I'm sitting here nursing a pair of very sore feet, but feeling a certain hunger that I don't feel was fully fed last weekend. Expect to see me at the start line in Silverton next weekend.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Week Ending June 19

Mon - Off. Arrived in New York in the wee hours of Monday morning, so no run before work. No chance during the day.

Tues - 5 miles. A quick couple of laps around Central Park Reservoir, which was packed at 6:00 AM.

Weds - 5 miles. As yesterday. Ho hum.

Thurs - Noon: 9 miles (1,900') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Loggers - Carey Springs - Towers - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg - home long. Not sure my legs could have felt any flatter. This is typical for me in the second week of the taper...but still. I almost turned around and went home after a half mile.

Fri - Noon: 9 miles (1,900') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Loggers - Carey Springs - Towers - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg - home long. Legs better, but still not where I want them to be.

Sat - AM: 14 miles (1,900') easy. Bluesky/Indian Summer o&b from home with Ryan. Getting better. Still not fresh, but definitely better.

Sun - AM: 7 miles (1,700') easy. From Soderberg - Valley - Sawmill - Loggers - Herrington - Towers - Herrington - Sprig Creek - Soderberg - home long. Couple of layers. Good sweat. Tight hamstrings from weeding yesterday, otherwise legs feel like they're coming around nicely.

Total: 49 miles (7,400')

Well that essentially caps my training for the year. From here on in it will be: race (WS); recover; race (HR); recover; play in the high country on some sweet routes (Glacier Gorge traverse, Rawah traverse, Pingree five peak speed attempt, Mummy Mania speed attempt); race (Sierre-Zinal); recover; race (UTMB); recover; hibernate.

My Dad asked me on the phone this morning what my strategy for next weekend was. After giving his question a bit of thought I realized that I don't really have a strategy. I mean one can plan all they want for these things but in my experience, as long as you have the basic essentials of fueling and hydration figured out, there really shouldn't be too much else to think about. The rest tends to be unnecessary noise and stress. There are a couple of logistical issues to figure out with Nick & Jake, my two pacers, but that can wait for Thursday.

The race will unfold however it unfolds and unless I'm completely out of touch with the reality of my fitness, I'll run the race the day gives me. If the pace is too hot off the front, then I'm not going to kill myself trying to stay in touch. That's how it played out last year, and I'm generally happy with the way I ran. There were guys running way over their head on the re-route around French Meadows (we're talking sub-6 pace), and all I could do was sit back and shake my head while they destroyed their races before it was even one-fifth done. If that kind of silliness transpires again this year, then I'll just have to let it go. Obviously, I hope to be in the mix throughout, but I'd rather finish in fifth with a time and effort that I'm happy with than implode at 80 miles after chasing the lead all day and digging myself a Rucky-Chucky grave. The Western States course is 100 miles long; not 50, not 80, not 90, but 100.

We'll find out on course details in the next couple of days. I'm guessing that we'll run the same course as last year, but have to deal with significantly more snow. Meanwhile, at Red Mountain Pass (11,200') in the San Juans there's a snowpack of just 14 inches left. That should mostly be gone by next weekend. So mega snow in the Sierra Nevadas and primo conditions in the San Juans.

On a side note, the ride from my house to the cabin we're staying at in Squaw Valley is 1,020 miles. If I average 65 mph (including stops), then we're looking at a travel time of 15:42. I wonder if it will take longer to cover 1,000 miles in the car or 100 miles on foot?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Week Ending June 12

Mon - Noon: 9 miles (1,900') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Loggers - Carey Springs - Towers - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg - home long. Nice and hot out. Felt pretty good. Legs fine.

Tues - AM: 8.5 miles track. Hooked up with Pete and Slush (and a tardy Sarah) for an easy-effort track workout. Workout was 400, 800, 1200 , 1600, 1200, 800, 400. Digits: 83, 2:47, 4:18, 5:45, 4:17, 2:48, 74, then a bonus 400 w/Sarah at the end: 82. Wooden legs.

- Noon: 9 miles (1,900') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Loggers - Carey Springs - Towers - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg - home long.

Thurs - AM: 10.5 miles (1,200') easy. Bluesky/Indian Summer out and back with Slush and Sarah. Mad hail storm last night, wet and foggy this morning. Nice conditions for running, but legs were totally flat.

Fri - Noon: 6 miles (600') easy. Valley.

Sat - 30.5 miles (3,700'). Mount Evans.

Sun - 9.5 miles (2,200'). Ran the Horsetooth Trail course in reverse with Slush and Sarah to cheer on friends running the race. Fun morning.

Miles: 83 miles (11,500')

That pretty much wraps up the Western States training. Nothing much left to do but jog around and drive out to California. In New York for work through Wednesday, so pretty much forced to take time off with a very packed schedule. Didn't find any time today to run and tomorrow isn't looking much better. Hopefully I'll be able to find an hour to hit up a lap around my old stomping grounds in Central Park, but not banking on it. Squaw next Tues/Weds.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Running America's Highest Paved Road

Evans (foreground) from Echo Lake. Photo: Joe G

From Echo Lake to the top of Mount Evans (14,264') by way of 'America's Highest Paved Road,' it is 15.25 miles and some 3,600 feet of climbing. For those familiar with mountain grades, those digits compute to a very forgiving grade. The one compounding problem, however, is that all the work occurs between 10,600' and 14,264'. The air is thin up there, but I really felt like I needed to get some work up high before heading out to Silverton for the Hardrock 100 in July, even if just as a token effort.

It was either Pikes or Evans as far as not-too-snowed-in, high-Alpine options were concerned, and in the interests of expediency I figured the long road to the top of Evans was preferable to potential above-treeline slogging on Pikes. Besides, Evans offered up the opportunity for some good turnover, which would also serve me well with regards to Western States, especially on the long, long descent.

A few emails on Thursday and we had a nice little crew lined up for the Saturday jaunt: Joe Grant, Pete Stevenson, Scott Jurek and Jenny Uehisa. Two hours down the road from the Fort and we were set for a 7am push off.

All pics J Uehisa, unless otherwise noted

As noted, the grade going up is really quite pleasant. Per mile, it is approximately 250 feet of ascending with very little variation, so a real runners' grade. Once settled in, the running actually came quite easily. The wind was howling a bit, and there were a few stop-you-in-your-tracks headwinds on some of the more exposed aspects, and on the tight switchbacks above 13,000', it was either a complete slog into the wind or a rushing tailwind, which provided a little extra element of fun to the summit push.

One of the depressingly long road vistas

On the summit. Photo: Joe G

From Echo Lake to the rocky summit, I was up in 2:15, in what felt like a steady to relaxed effort. The descent (1:45) was torture after about five miles, and if it wasn't for the wonderful company of Radio Joe G FM, I may even have resorted to sticking my thumb out.

A little chilly starting out on the descent

Layers were soon shed

With a total of 30 miles on road, I think this may have been my longest ever road run. Somewhat bizarre to have achieved that going up a mountain. Welcome to Colorado.

And done!

J Uehisa. Photo: Joe G

Ultragen and Peaks. Joe G.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Week Ending June 5

Mon - Noon: 13 miles (2,000') easy. From Bluesky TH - Bluesky - Valley - Arthurs TH - Arthurs Rock trail to summit - Howard - Mill Creek Link - Valley - Bluesky. My hamstrings were all weird and tight - I think from hours of weed pulling on Sunday. Anyway, other than the gimpiness, the run was very nice.
PM: 5 miles (1,000') easy. Falls long. Crazy windy out, but without the cold I just laughed at it.

Tues - Noon: 7 miles (1,600') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg - home long. Sunny. Left hamstring still a bit weird but should be gone by tomorrow.
PM: 10 miles track. Hot out, but went with the long sleeve to get a good sweat going. Workout was 4 x 800/300, w/100 jog after 800 & 400 jog after 300. 800 'featured event' to get warmed up. Digits: 3:04, then 2:36/56, 2:38/54, 2:33/53, 2:37/56. Started these out with the intention of doing half marathon type pace, but ended up pushing harder.
January: 440.5 miles (45,850')
February: 304.5 miles (39,200')
March: 469.5 miles (67,100')
April: 427 (62,000')
May: 509.5 (92,500)

Total: 2151 miles (306,650')
Avg: 430 miles (61,330')
Weds - Noon: 8.5 miles (800') easy on the Valley trails. Right leg felt a bit jacked in the ankle and groin from the track yesterday, but should be good in a couple of days.
PM: 5 miles (1,000') easy. Falls long.

Thurs - AM: 2.5 miles easy at Heil Ranch outside Lyons for a PI photo shoot with Darcy (and Alistair).

Peak II

Photos: Don Karle

PM: 8 miles (2,200') Horsetooth TT. 3 mile warm up, then Horsetooth at 80%: 25:36. Hot and windy out, but a pretty controlled effort for a third-fastest ascent ever (on tired legs). Encouraging.

Fri - AM: 6 easy (600'). Valley.

Sat - AM: 33 miles (8,000'). Dirty Thirty.

Sun - 6 miles easy (1,400')
. Ran the Teva Mountain Games 10k course (after the race) with Alex as his warm down. Lots of slop, snow and crustiness.

Total: 104 miles (18,600')

May was a record month for me, and I doubt I'll ever record that kind of monthly mileage again. It's not that the running was that much of a grind - the mileage actually came pretty easily - it's just such a mental effort to constantly be trying to find time slots to run and then be ready to go at the drop of a hat when the opportunities arise. It's like being a runner 'on call.' The key for me is getting up early and being done with a lot of my runs before the family is up. It also means depriving myself of sleep and drinking record amounts of coffee. Surely not a sustainable proposition.

Anyway, with the mileage and vert now in my back pocket, it will be interesting to see what results the training yields. I know I'm fit, I know I'm durable, and I know I'm mentally prepared to work through some hurt. Will it be enough? I'll find out soon enough.

Had the opportunity to talk Hardrock this weekend, before, during and after the Dirty Thirty race. I'm definitely more excited about experiencing that event than I am Western States, but my competitive instincts are also very much in overdrive, which means both races are currently front and center in my running mind. I know that I recover quickly, so I'm still hopeful that I'll be able to put forth a respectable effort in the San Juans. But first some rest.

I'm thinking 80 miles, 50 miles, & 20 miles in the three remaining weeks to WS, with 2 or 3 more runs in the 20-25 mile range. Between WS and HR I am envisioning lots of sleep, very little running and a good amount of hiking.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dirty Thirty

So this one was billed in my mind as a last long, hard effort before Western - a training run with a competitive twist. I'm not usually one to line up for a race without intending to put forth a hard, competitive effort; if I want a training run, well, that is easily achieved from my front door. However, being just three weeks out from the first big race of the summer, I wanted something approaching race effort, but nothing too detrimental - an in-between effort.

Soon after the start. Joe in yellow. All Photos (unless otherwise credited): Woody Anderson. More here.

Photo: Tony Krupicka. More here.

From the off, it was Joe Grant (in English mode) and me setting the early pace. Through the first set of switchbacks, it was pretty apparent that it would likely be the two of us off the front for this one. After running the first mile or two quite sociably, it seemed a bit weird that we'd be 'racing' for the $100 prime at the first aid station (6 miles), so I suggested that we just run it in together and split the cash. Joe was on board. And so we jigged up the creek, crossing back and forth innumerable times, before bopping up and out of the short but steep valley side and down the other side into the first aid.

Pulling up the forest-road climb from the aid, mine and Joe's paces separated a bit and I began to pull away slowly. This was essentially how the race would play out until about mile 24 or so. I would catch brief glimpses of Joe on some of the heavily switchbacked climbs, or hear him coming into aid stations after me for the next couple of segments, but it generally seemed like I was building a lead. My effort was generally hard, but my motivation waxed and waned, so I was in and out of paces and efforts. I was feeling strong enough that I was easily able to push hard when the mood came, and it did frequently enough.

The miles were clicking off quickly, much helped by the varied terrain and views. We had a great morning for running with still conditions and no significant heat until the race was essentially over. I remember a beautiful meadow that offered up some fast turns; sandy sections; rocky, technical mountain climbs and descents; a little ridge top action; bomber forest road descents, and not so bomber forest road climbs. A little bit of everything for everyone.


I was through mile 20 in exactly three hours, with just the pull up Windy Peak left in terms of big climbs. I felt like things were enough under control that I would probably stay on pace through the last third for a run in the 4:30-4:40 range. Unfortunately, I 'pulled a Nick' and made a wrong turn just before the mile 25 aid station, hanging a left and getting back on the trail markers from an earlier part of the course. Ho hum.

"Am I on course or off course? Pretty sure I'm off, but there were definitely markers indicating a left. Still feels wrong."

Judging by my paces on the segments before and after the wrong turn, I figure I was off course for 16-20 minutes, but it felt longer. It wasn't until I hooked up with Jason Koop, also off course, that I finally got back on track, now sitting in sixth or seventh. By the mile 25 aid, just before the climb up Windy Peak, I was in fourth or fifth and an estimated seven minutes behind Joe in first.

I was kind of annoyed but glad to be back on course. The off-course adrenaline rush had me pushing at my hardest effort all day. Half way up the climb I passed Nick P to pull into second. He told me there was an out back from the peak where I should get a read on the gap to Joe: Five minutes with four or five miles to go. I ran hard, but didn't kill myself on the descent. I got a couple of time checks along the way and it didn't seem like I was gaining nearly enough, so I cruised the last couple of miles to save the effort for another day. Three weeks from now.

Joe ended up winning and setting a new course record, with a strong 4:49. Darcy continues to show good form, winning and also setting a new course record on the women's side of things.

Finishing with my boy. Photos: TK.

Darcy getting it done.

Ali Gali and his mom getting down to some marimba. TK

With a $100 up for the prime and $100 for the win, Joe - being the British gent that he is - split it down the middle, letting me have the $100 prime. Dana and I probably spent about $100 the rest of the weekend camping in Minturn with the kids and hanging out in Vail at the Winter Mountain Games with friends, so thanks Joe. Much fun.

It's always tough to mark courses on tight acreage, and aside from my blunder I thought Megan and her crew did a great job with the flagging and marshaling. My left was unfortunate, picking up flags from an earlier part of the run the way I did, but I probably also should have figured something was up after I realized that I was back running that section. But again, you never know on tight courses like the Dirty Thirty as sections are often repeated. I would definitely suggest for next year that there is a race marshal there at that turn or that the flagging from earlier in the race has been taken down after the last runners are through.

No biggie though. I got what I wanted, which was a solid training race where I felt in control and ready for plenty more at the end. A nice last little confidence boost as I start to taper down the mileage. This old man needs a little longer than most to feel fully refreshed and primed for an 'A' effort.


Aid 1 (5.2): 43:16 (8:30 segment pace)
Aid 2 (11.8): 57:51 (8:45 pace)
Aid 3 (16.8): 49:13 (9:50 pace)
Aid 4 (23.5): 80:21 (12:00 pace)
Finish: (31): 63:18 (8:26 pace)