Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fortnight Ending July 28

Week Ending July 21

Mon - 4 miles easy. Bluesky out and back.

Tues - 5 miles (1,000') easy. Falls loop.

Weds - 4 miles easy with some minute-long pick-ups. Bluesky.

Thurs - 4 miles urban jogging in Manchester, NH. Sweaty.

Fri - 3 miles super easy with Fred in White River Junction, VT. Sweaty again.

Sat - 100 miles (15,300'). Vermont 100.

Sun - Off

Total: 120 miles (16,300')

Week Ending July 28

Mon - Off

Tues - Off

Weds - Off

Thurs - Off

Fri - Off

Sat - 7.5 miles (1,700') easy. Joined friends from the Fort Collins Trail Runners for the third annual 24 Hours of Towers. Jogged out with the early starters for a single lap, then called it good. Legs felt great going up, but a little sore coming down. Borrowed Rob's wizard sticks to see how they might feel for the return trip on Hope at Leadville in three weeks, but found them to be highly annoying. Towers was probably not the best place to test them out, however.

Sun - 13 miles (5,500') easy. Mount Lady Washington (13,281') & Longs Peak (14,255'). The original plan for the morning was to hike up to the top of Mount Lady Washington with Alistair, my son, to try out the poles again and get some quality father/son time. Unfortunately, he had a meltdown the night before and decided he wasn't going, so I went up solo still with the objective of keeping things at a casual recovery effort. Again, I found the poles to be more annoying and troublesome than beneficial on the gentle jog up to the Chasm Lake turn-off, but found them moderately helpful once I started hoofing steeply up MLW's east ridge. Once off tundra however, they were again useless and were put away for the rest of the day. The views of the Diamond and Chasm Lake are quite spectacular from MLW, but otherwise the peak is a fairly unremarkable pile of rocks; a trivial sub-summit of the real master of the region. Of course once in the general vicinity of Longs, I figured it would be shameful not to grab a summit, so despite the dank, socked-in conditions I made my way over the boulders and headed up via the keyhole. Everything was super greasy once through the keyhole, so the going was a little slower  than I would have liked, and once on the viewless summit I realized I was going to have to descend way quicker than planned in order to make an early-afternoon meeting in Estes. Again, I had to be somewhat cautious on slick rock getting back to the keyhole, before having to bomb the descent back to the TH; legs protesting the whole way. Not so smart on the recovery front, but always good to get a Longs summit.

Total: 20.5 miles (7,200')

Given that Vermont marks the halfway point of the Grand Slam, and with fully four weeks until Leadville, I decided to take a week off of running to give the legs adequate opportunity to repair. Of course, I was a little overzealous in getting back into things on the weekend and I was definitely feeling significant soreness in the quads and knees while descending the 5,000 feet off Longs. Remarkably, the legs felt great the next day so no harm done it would appear.

I'll be looking to get back into a nice rhythm through this week and next, trying to get up high as life permits. A few of us will be heading up to Chapin Pass in RMNP for the 2013 rendition of Mummy Mania early on Saturday morning if anyone is interested in joining. It'll be a sunrise start and we'll be shooting for a steady to hard effort in the five- to six-hour range.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vermont 100

There’s always another hill in Vermont; never a big hill, sometimes a steep hill, but always another hill.

Having never run the race, I came in with limited expectations and a pretty relaxed attitude. The race would be number two of four in my quest for a ‘Stealth’ Grand Slam, and I came to Vermont primarily focused on getting it done in a steady but perhaps unspectacular fashion. The mantra for the day was ‘jog everything,’ with an eye towards getting to the Rocky Mountains, the venue for the final two races, in one piece and within striking distance of the Sharmanator who held a 36-minute lead over me after round one in California. Based on a few discussions with people that had previously run the course, I was under the impression that it was 100 percent runnable - and perhaps for some on a good day it is - but for me on this day it unfortunately was not. And I tried. Vermont is a tough, grinding course.

From the off – in a field in Vermont in the middle of seemingly nowhere – I settled in and made some introductions. Justin Angle I had never met, but knew to be a strong and experienced ultrarunner; it was good to get to know him a bit through the opening 20 miles of the course. Mike Dixon had just been out on the Front Range in Boulder for a week, with a brief visit to Fort Collins. I told him he’d got it the wrong way around suggesting his time might have been better spent in The Fort, a comment that prompted a comical rebuff from Chad Ricklefs, a long-time resident of The Republic and member of our early lead pack. Perhaps buoyed by my snub of the P.R.B, Chad promptly took off; Mike followed, which left myself, Ian and Justin to speculate on how best to pace this thing. We kept it where we were and watched them float off.

The early going had felt a touch fast and almost immediately I got the sense that my legs were going to need to be babied on this one. I had hoped that three weeks would be adequate recovery from Western States, and I think it was close, but there were definite signals in the first 20 miles from the peg department suggesting that if I wanted them to carry me to the finish then we’d have to be moving at nothing more than a casual jog the whole day, with the ups at the lowest of low gears. As I watched Chad, Mike and then another runner glide off into the distance (sight lines are very long in Vermont) I remained committed to the goal of running everything, albeit slowly.

At mile 15, we made our way through the quaint little town of Woodstock, which was the only settlement of any consequence that we’d pass through the whole day. I passed off my headlamp to Fred Abramovitz – one of my travel companions for the weekend and pacer to his lovely wife Amy Hayes – and learned that I was sitting about three or four minutes behind the lead trio. Justin was in view a few steps up the road, so I was now in fifth with Ian just behind and last year's winner Brian Rusiecki yet to make an appearance but assumed to be within striking distance.

A fourth of the way into our day, there was a little sign stuck into the ground that read ‘26.2 Miles Done, 73.8 To Go.’ As I passed the mischievous marathon marker I took a look at my watch. The digits said 4,000 feet ascended, 4,000 feet descended and 3 hours and 40 minutes elapsed. One hundred miles is a long-ass way to run (I don’t care what Karl has to say on the matter), and it can be a really intimidating undertaking when considered in its entirety, so a common strategy is to break courses down into manageable and less daunting segments.

‘Run aid station to aid station’ is a much recited cliché in 100 mile racing. Today, I wanted to try something different, setting my watch to its accumulated vertical gain/descent screen and giving myself a mental pat on the back for each 1,000 feet climbed, knowing that the course would terminate somewhere in the 15,000 foot range. I find running numbers and doing race-related mental arithmetic to be a good way to pass the miles at times, so this added set of digits was a welcome distraction.

By mile 30, a handler aid station where I would trade bottles with the incomparable Jim Garcia for the second time, I was well and truly into my rhythm for the day. Jason Lantz had caught up to me somewhere around the 20 mile mark, and he was now running a few steps ahead with Justin, while Ian would come into view every now and again on my occasional shoulder checks. The lead trio were a reported nine to 10 minutes ahead, a bold course record pace I thought.

Somewhere not long after the 30 mile aid, we hit a steep, wet and very muddy section of singletrack that put an abrupt end to my plans of running the whole course. As I was grunting my way up the hill, I took a peek back to see if Ian was still on my tail, but was surprised to catch sight of a runner I didn’t recognize. I knew I wasn’t running particularly fast, but quite honestly I figured that the typically light Vermont field would allow me to get away with a slower, yet still podium-worthy run. But now here I was being caught and about to be relegated to seventh with the Sharmantor still on my tail and Brian Rusiecki lurking somewhere not too far behind. I was beginning to feel like I was back at Western States scrapping for a top ten finish. Nonetheless, the game plan remained the same and I resisted the urge to find a faster gear.

The runner catching up to me introduced himself as Josh; I assumed Josh Katzman (correct) as that was an East Coast name I was familiar with. Josh, it seemed, was content to slot into my pace as we spilled off the sloppy trail and transitioned to a short stretch of busy asphalt. Like most participants in the sport, Josh is a competitive but incredibly likeable guy, so it was nice to whittle away a few miles engaged in agreeable conversation. On run-related topics I learned that one of the guys off the front, Mike Dixon, was known by some as the ‘ghost runner’ after disappearing off the front early at the Vermont 50 last year, not to be seen again until the finish line. Would the ghost strike again today? I also learned that Ian, who Josh had previously shared some miles with, was working through some issues.

All good intelligence. "Just keep jogging. Steady as she goes," I reminded myself.

Looking back on the long road section, however, I could see Ian no more than a minute back. I cursed inwardly at the predicament. Here I was chugging along, stuck in low gear, racing to stay in the top 10 while also trying to keep Ian behind me in our separate battle over the four legs of the Grand Slam. Knowing it was still early, I repeated the mantra and jogged on.

At an unmanned aid station at mile 36 by a reservoir on a rough-cut section of trail, Josh and I unexpectedly (to me at least) came across Justin and Jason just leaving. I hadn’t see them in a while, so this buoyed the spirits, as rather than being caught by yet more runners I was apparently starting to close a bit. But then Ian trotted up looking his usual chipper self and putting an immediate damper on my mood.

Not long thereafter, on one of the longer climbs of the day, the chase pack tightened up and the state of play became visible in one frame. Justin was slowing, Jason was pulling ahead a little, while Josh and Ian were gradually dropping off the pace as I maintained my running cadence versus everybody else's hike. Near the top of the hill I caught up to Jason and we began what would be many shared miles running shoulder to shoulder; the two of us now in fourth and fifth. And then not long after that we reeled in one of the early hares – the 'ghost runner' – for a joint share of third.

The jogging was starting to pay dividends.

By Camp 10 Bear, from whence we would hit a 25 mile loop before returning at mile 71, Jason and I were firmly in lockstep and assuming a good mutual pace; he running lower sections of the hills quicker than me before dropping to a hike, me passing him in my granny running gear on the upper sections of the hill and the pair of us reuniting on descents and more gently rolling stuff. This continued for approximately 20 miles, so I had a good opportunity to get to know Jason, an interesting guy from Lancaster, PA (a town I used to drive through to visit my grandmother in Parkersburg, WV when visiting from Michigan). He works as a counselor in the very tough field of addiction recovery; a profession that I can only imagine helps keep the mind from feeling too sorry for itself when engaged in these absurd day-long exercises of self-inflicted pain.

Coming into Camp 10 Bear, the Mile 47 aid station with Jason Lantz. Picture Far North.
Jason is a no-BS kinda guy, and one of the funnier comments he made as we were jogging along related to his thoughts on runners from the West coming out and winning the big Eastern races or - worse - proclaiming that they were going to win them. I sniggered loudly and thought of Chad from Boulder off the front of the field and Ian's pre-race proclamation that he was going to dismantle the course record.

We passed the ’Mile 50.4, 49.6 to go’ sign at approximately 7:20 time elapsed (and 7,300 feet of vertical ascent covered) soon after we had starting passing 100km runners on a nice long section of wooded trail. Our pace picked up appreciably in response to the more engaging surface and before long we were passing streams of runners in the shorter race with a faster-looking runner also ahead. Jason thought it was the second-place runner, Sebastian from Quebec, but I wasn’t so sure. In anticipation, we picked up our pace to somewhere close to over-exuberant and sure enough it was indeed the diminutive and jolly Sebastian – clearly slowing but still in very good spirits.

Now in joint second, I was a little concerned with the increased tempo, eager to drop back into my jogging gear but hesitant to let Jason go. I had a drop bag at the mile 59 aid station with a baggie of the Generation Ucan powder I had experimentally been fueling on for this run. I also picked up a bar and generally fussed a bit, wasting time before heading over to the aid station table. Jason was still there and had seemingly sampled everything on offer, being particularly excited by the pickle juice, suggesting I give it a go. It tasted good, a little ‘pickly’ maybe, but it really helped cut the sweet from the taste buds. I poured a second dixie cup of the vinegary, salty solution and quickly downed it and then just as quickly concluded that sticking at one would have been the smart move.

On leaving the aid station, I took a quick look back and boom, there was the #1 bib diving into the aid station bags. Rusiecki had finally caught up. Bugger. On the big (by Vermont standards) climb out of the aid station, Jason gapped me pretty comfortably and I was for the first time hiking road grades that I had until then stubbornly been running, all the while burping up pickle juice gases.

"Just keep jogging what you can," I reminded myself.

The next aid station along the way was Margaritaville (but no Jimmy Buffet tunes) and again Jason was taking his merry old time, still there when I got in. This time he suggested I take a shot of tequila with him – I had to draw the line there – but apparently it worked as I wouldn’t see him again until the finish line.

Now in third, about to be relegated to fourth, I was stuck in gear but still moving. Brian took forever to pass me, finally doing so on a big climb. I asked about Ian and he told me he was in a world of hurt. I hoped it wasn’t something that would put him out of our little Grand Slam tussle, but at the same time I was hoping that it was the kind of trouble that would erase his 36-minute lead from Western States (just being honest here).

I have to say that I was surprised on the next section of downhill trail at just how quickly Brian came back to me. The descents had started to feel decent for me, as if my quads were locked into their pain zone for the run and wouldn’t deteriorate any further, but I certainly wasn’t slaying it. Brian apparently just didn’t have much to give. With a big descent back into Camp 10 Bear and the 71 mile aid station, I was now two minutes behind Jason, 20 behind Chad and a couple of minutes up on Brian. I wasn't too efficient at the aid station, unsure of what I wanted or needed. Fred was trying to spoon feed me ice cream - he swears by it - but I wanted soda and savory. Meanwhile, I was watching Brian get naked while changing his shorts on easily the most populated spot of the whole course. Brilliant. And then I watched him get out before me, which finally prompted me to get on with things and get out of there with my pacer Jim Garcia  – a previous winner of the race, now 55 and still banging out 2:5x marathons.

We watched as Brian pulled away up the steep section of trail from Camp 10 Bear to what felt like the highest point on the course. My climbing, as it had been all day continued to be pitiful and I could tell that it was as much as Jim could do to keep from dropping to a hike in order to not make my running cadence look completely pathetic. So I dropped to hike instead. Again, I caught up to Brian by the next aid station on the ensuing descent, relishing and really eating up the super soft and relatively buff sections of trail that we were offered.

Not quite sure who was going to win this battle of fatigue, I was surprised to not catch Brian on the next big downhill after the inevitable uphill after the aid. But then I was even more surprised when a 100km runner at around mile 82 told me that I was in third, a few minutes behind second, way off first, but definitely in third. Jim and I speculated on that and figured that Brian had either dropped at the 79 mile aid, and we hadn’t seen him or he’d gotten off course somewhere. Looking back on some of the longer views, we weren’t seeing anybody, so by Bill's aid station (89) I was beginning to feel comfortable in third.

Chad was a reported 20 minutes up on me still – much as he had been for the last 30 to 40 miles – while Jason looked to be cutting into his lead, now 10 minutes ahead of me. I thought back to his earlier comment about East Coast races and runners from the West, and thought there might be a bit of that fueling the charge.

Through more rough-cut fields, over yet another hill, and with over 15,000 feet on the altimeter I was truly ready for this one to be done. Mile 92.5 came slowly but eventually, then we hit another monster hill (yes, still only 300 - 400 feet but so steep). Looking back from the crest, there was still nobody and I knew I had a lock on third, but repeated the mantra and immediately slotted back into the jog. Thinking that the last aid station was at mile 95, I was overjoyed to learn that it was in fact mile 96. Four miles seemed doable, but five miles by my tired reasoning would clearly have been insurmountable.

I took a look at the split sheet and saw that Jason had cut Chad's lead to three minutes, and figured that it was going to be heartbreaker for Chad somewhere in the 98-99 mile zone after having led the race the whole day. And indeed it was, with Jason assuming the lead at mile 98.5; testimony to the power of the  jog.

I hadn't quite been able to stay on pace and ended up losing a full 30 minutes on Jason over those last 30 miles, finishing a hair under 16 hours and feeling pretty destroyed. It had been a hot and humid day that had slowly ground me down. My stomach just about stayed with me the whole day, so I was able to hang on by a thread and get to that glorious finish line for a satisfying third-place finish.

Vermont is old school, but very well done. The aid stations are plentiful and well stocked, the volunteers are fantastic and the scenery is spectacular and typically New England. I found the unique arrowed trail markings to be fantastic and a much superior, if more time consuming, way to mark a course. At no point during the day did I feel unsure of whether or not I was on course - and believe me, aside from the course markers you have absolutely no idea of where you are when running the Vermont 100, other than at the top, middle or bottom of yet another bloody hill.

My first question upon sitting down was about Ian and his fate. I'd heard nothing since Brian's comment hours earlier about him being in rough shape, so I was shocked to hear that he was just four minutes behind me. And then there he was, the chipper Englishman popping out of the woods with a strong late-race rally for a very hard-fought and well-deserved sub-16 hour fourth place finish.

Moving to the Rockies in four weeks, Ian will start with a 33 minute lead; both of us holding significant advantage over Neal Gorman's existing course record (2.5 and 2 hours respectively). But this one ain't done until we hit the Wasatch finish line. Neal was solid at both Leadville and Wasatch, so all it takes is one blow-up for both me and Ian, and Neal's record lives on into 2014.

As a side note, I should also mention that we have a race shaping up in the women's division of the Grand Slam this year as well. It was a tough day for Abby out there in Vermont, but she hung tough for a gritty 22 hour finish. Meanwhile, the on-paper favorite, Traci Falbo, had a very strong second-place showing after what looks to have been a pretty disastrous Western States. The two are now separated by just 45 minutes, with Abby holding the advantage.

One hundred mile racing can be fickle business, so it is all to play for as we move to Leadville.

100 miles, 15,300 feet of up and 15,300 of down, three minutes separating us. On to Leadville. Picture Far North.
We were both pretty much destroyed at the end of the Vermont 100.  Picture Far North.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Week Ending July 14

Mon - 6.5 miles (800') easy. Out and back to Arthurs TH from Soderberg on the Valley Trails, including a jaunt on the new - and some might say, unnecessary - connector to Sawmill. Felt good to stretch the legs a bit and get them running. Certainly a bit of general fatigue residing in the upper quads still, in addition to some lingering soreness, but on the whole a good comfortable run.

Tues - 5.5 miles at the track. Workout was 800, 3 x 1,600. Didn't wear a watch for this one as I was there to no more than stretch the legs. Ran with Jen Malmberg and Slush for most of these at or around 6:00 min pace, but tagged onto Ben as he lapped us going into lap two of the last mile and ran the last 3/4 at approximately 5:20 pace with him.

Weds - 5.5 miles (500') easy. Jogged super easy from Bluesky out to Shoreline and back on Nomad. Felt a little bit of stuff in there from track/WS, so made this a true recovery-paced run. #CouldHaveHikedFaster.

Thurs - 10.5 miles (1,200') easy. Ran Bluesky/Indian Summer at a casual effort with Sarah and Lee in the early AM. Humid out. #GoodVT100WeatherTraining.

Fri - 4 miles easy. Jogged easy in the midday heat on Blue Sky.

Sat - 13 miles (800') easy. Jogged a full out and back on Redstone Canyon @ 16 hour 100 mile pace with Abby and Wesir. Super casual. Still just the slightest bit of something residual in the upper quads, but nothing that a nice easy pre-VT100 week won't take care of. Feeling about as good as could be hoped for at this stage. #Getting(Moderately)ExcitedForVT100.

Sun - 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Nice easy cruise up to Horsetooth north summit on the standard route via Southridge/Audra, then down on Rock trail, with Tony S. First summit in weeks; good to be back and even better to see some familiar faces out there. Legs felt fantastic.  

Total: 51.5 miles (4,900')

This was a good compromise week. I felt like it was important to get some consistent, yet mainly casual, mileage on my legs to get back into a good running rhythm for Vermont, while also being disciplined by staying out of the hills to avoid overexertion and to allow the recovery process to continue. Through the first half of the week, there was definitely some residual fatigue and soreness in the pins, but by the weekend I was starting to feel really good. For my Sunday AM jaunt up Horsetooth I felt absolutely nothing but energy in my legs. All systems appear to be go for Vermont. A nice easy few days upcoming and I'll be eager to get things under way.

Lon Freeman, Justin Angle, Brian Rusiecki (last year's winner), Chad Ricklefs, Pedatella, and the Sharmanator are some of the names I recognize off the start list, so I think it should be a good little battle up front. Sharman seems to think he's taking the CR down, so we'll see how that goes for him. I'll be on the lookout for body parts from mile 75 onwards.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Week Ending July 7

Mon - Off

Tues - Off

Weds - Off

Thurs - 8 miles (2,600') hiking to Emmaline Lake from Pingree, then up to Comanche/Fall Mtn Ridge & back to camp with the Liddles and The Erskine. All hiking, no running. Legs felt pretty good, except for some of the steeper descending off the ridge.
A bit of impromptu camping with the Liddle Clan at Emmaline Lake in the Pingree area. 
Fri - AM: 5 miles hiking. Hiked out with Erskine.
PM: 3 miles easy. Bench loop. With the family in Michigan, I was at a bit of a loose end, so figured I'd go out and grab a Horsetooth summit. Bagged that idea on the half mile run down to the park as the pins were feeling a little grouchy still. Felt good to be running, but three miles was enough.

Sat - 6.5 miles (4,500') mainly hiking. Up in the Never Summers with Mike and Rob to see if we couldn't tag the high point of the range, The Baron von Richthofen (12,945'), from Lake Agnes which is a gloriously scenic alpine lake just west of Cameron Pass sitting at a touch over 10,600'. Ended up with a Double Baron after getting cliffed out trying to get down from the Static/Richthofen ridge. Also bagged a summit of Mt. Mahler (12,464') off the bat (I hear his seventh is particularly good), but had to do some creative work to get from Mahler to Richthofen as Mike & Rob weren't liking the look of the rotten ridge over to Richtho. The rock on Richthofen was much better, but the connecting ridge was some of the worst I've seen. Got stupidly cliffed out trying to descend to Lake Agnes from The Baron's north ridge, so had to put our tails between our legs and hump the kilo back up to Richtho before backtracking to near the Richtho/Mahler saddle to descend that way. The Never Summers are stunning to look at, but up close and personal, they're pretty much slag heaps of jagged and rapidly decaying volcanic rock. Nonetheless, the stunning south - north traverse from Baker to Nokhu Crags is still very much on the bucket list for an outing some time in the next couple of years. Out way longer than expected given the navigational mishaps; felt it in the quads as a consequence. #Not Being Smart. Rob looks to be in great shape; expecting big things at Hardrock. #Low30s.

The picturesque Lake Agnes with the Nokhu Crags slag heap behind. Photo: Erskine. 
Mainly hiking. Erskine.
With a little token running.
Rotten Mahler/Richthofen Ridge. Erskine
Soon to be cliffed out and begrudgingly forced to reascend Richthofen.  Correct & disciplined call.  Erskine.
Erskine on the alternate down/up route around to Richthofen from Mahler. 
Descending to Richtho/Static Saddle.
Part of the Never Summer line, with Lead, Cirrus and Howard. Mahler/Richthofen connecting ridge in foreground. The full line goes from Baker on the south end to Nokhu Crags on the north. Gorgeous mountains to look at, and an appealing route, but very sketchy summer terrain that demands respect.  
Valley off the west side of the Richthofen, Teepee, Lead ridge. 
Sun - 5.5 miles (2,900') mainly hiking. With Dana and the kids back from Michigan next week, I decided to make the most of the open weekend by bagging a couple more peaks, even if it wasn't the best option in terms of overall recovery / getting ready for Vermont; but sometimes you gotta throw caution to the wind and get out to feed the soul. These would be my first unique ranked Larimer County peaks of 2013 and numbers 101 & 102 out of the 255 I hope to collect by the time this project is all said and done. The peaks on the agenda for today were 'Thunder' (10,134') and 'Lightning' (10,567'), both in the general Estes Park area and directly to the north of Estes Cone. I parked up at the end of Hwy 66 by the reservoir for the East Portal of the Adams Tunnel and hooked into the Wind River Trail, one of the many backdoor entries into RMNP. I didn't linger on trail too long and was soon hoofing it directly for what I thought was Thunder's summit. Wrong, just a cool looking sub-summit to the northwest. Another 500 feet and I was on the true summit soaking in the magnificent views of the Glacier Gorge peaks, and the always inspiring Mummy Mountains. The whole Mummy Mania Traverse was on show, so I did a bit of visualizing for my planned annual run at that one coming up on August 3.

Incidentally, if anyone wants to join, a group of us are going to take a run at the traverse that day in an 'each man for himself' FKT 'race.' It'll be a ton of fun and with a few us in tow we can do car shuttles rather than have to hitch at the end.

Anyway, the drop down to the Thunder/Lightning saddle was hugely fun as it was wide open and essentially all sand. At the saddle, it was a head down 1,000 foot grunter up to the top of Lightning in a race to beat the weather. It hailed on me a bit at the top, but the skies otherwise looked stable. Great views again, and then it was off down to the drainage east of the Wind River until things opened up and I could cross over to the dividing ridge to get back on trail. Legs felt really good today on all the steep stuff but somewhat fatigued for the mile of two of actual trail running at the end.

Meeker/Longs from Lightning.

Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues, Mummy. That's the lineup for Aug 3. 

Lightning & Estes Cone with Meeker and Longs in background. 
Total 28 miles (10,000')

So not a whole lot of running this week, but still a good number of hours 'on my feet.' The legs have felt pretty good for the most part, but I need to get back into a running rhythm as I hear there's a good bit to be done at Vermont and not much in the way of mountains.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fortnight Ending June 30

Week Ending June 23

Mon - 7.5 miles (2,200') easy. Horsetooth north summit.

Tues - 6 miles track. The workout for this week, quite comically, was 3k open, then 8x300; the comedy of course being that the last 300 meters of the Western States course are famously on the Placer High track. My last track workout of the training block would be 8x300. Would it come down to a sprint finish 11 days later? Nah. Didn't wear a watch for this workout to avoid the temptation of running too hard. Ran the 3k at about marathon pace, then did just enough over the 300s to open the stride.

Weds - Off. Travel day to Toronto for work.

Thurs - 4 miles. Ran somewhere close to Cabbage Town in Toronto. Found a hill and labored up it, then returned to the hotel.

Fri - 4 miles. Found 40 minutes before my flight home to run a few urban miles.

Sat - 11 miles (800') easy. From the Turquoise Lake dam in Leadville, ran out to the asphalt on the other end of the Turquoise Lake trail and back on the Pb100 course.

Sun - 10 miles (3,000') easy. Joined the Leadville Training Camp group for a nice easy jaunt over Hope Pass to Winfield, then got a ride back. Checked out the new cut to Winfield off the contour trail. Much improved over last year's mileage adding nightmare. Felt largely terrible during this run.

Total 42.5 miles (6,000')

Week Ending June 30 

Mon - 4 miles easy. Bluesky trail midday in heat gear. Sore quads from Hope, somewhat inexplicably.

Tues - 4 miles easy. As Monday. Quads still sore.

Weds - 4 miles (500') easy. Jogged up to Alpine from our rental house in Squaw after the long road trip with Brian. Felt kinda blah.

Thurs - 5 miles (1,200') easy. Jogged up the Five Lakes Trail with Brian and took a dip at the top. Awesome floaty run, which finally gave me a bit of confidence after a largely lackluster taper.

Fri - 20 mins jogging with the PI crew in and around Alpine.

Sat - 100 miles (17,000') race. Western States 100.

Sun - Off. Ultradrive home.

Total: 120 (18,700')

This wasn't the best taper for me. I felt off for much of it, and the key second week was a mess of travel and not enough vertical. I paid the price with sore quads after a very casual crossing of Hope Pass the weekend prior to the race, and then stressed about that and its implications for Western States for three or four days after. I did feel, however, like I was pretty well rested and ready to go for the race, but there was still something missing. File that one away and rethink for next year.

It will be tough to leave the race behind, as I'd hoped to do this year, after such a lackluster performance. Next year I turn 40. Mike Morton's new master's record holds some appeal, and I know I'm capable of running under 15:40, even if the dream of a Cougar might be slipping from the realms of reality. It's a long time until WS2014, so we'll see.

Writing this on the Friday after Western States and having just returned from a fun overnight backpacking trip involving 13 miles of hiking and a good bit of vertical gain at high altitude, I can honestly say that recovery from this one is the quickest of any. Feeling good about Vermont already.

The Ultrarunning Scene: Western States 100 - 2013 &emdash;
Yeah, I dunno, maybe next year. Photo: Brad and Lori Clayton 
Photo: Maxim Kazitov

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Western States 2013 and the First Leg of the Grand Slam

"Here we go again," I lamented as I stood on the start line waiting for the gun to go off for my fourth running of the Western States 100. Even though I hadn't run a race this long since Leadville last August, I wasn't fooling myself. These races are painful and there's simply no getting around that. 

With a minute to go until the off, I for some reason found myself thinking about others signed up for the Vermont 100 and how many of them would be beginning their tapers that weekend. And then the gun went off and it was time to run 100 miles. 

Cameron Clayton had been advertising for weeks - nay months - that he was going to take the race out hard, so it was no great surprise to see him shoot off the start line with a full head of steam. More surprising to me was that nobody chased except Hal. Other than those two, it was the same old start I've experienced every year at Squaw; a slow methodical jog to the top with a long train of folks behind.

With one second until the start, Cameron gets ready to charge. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
And they're off. Topher (far right) is seriously stoked. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
My favorite part of the whole course comes immediately after the crest of the Escarpment. The stretch of singletrack before you duck into the trees is only about a quarter mile long, but it's at a bomber grade and offers large mountain views to the north. This is always the point in the run where I come to the realization that I'm here in the moment racing the Western States 100, and I just love to take the energy from those thoughts and lace that quarter mile to the trees before putting my head down and getting on with the day's business: grinding.

Leading up to the race, my left knee had been giving me some problems and somewhat bizarrely my quads had come away from a single Hope Pass climb/descent up in Leadville the weekend before totally sore. By the Thursday before the race, the quad soreness had dissipated, but the knee was still bothersome and I was fearful that I'd find myself compensating for the knee by taking extra stress in the quads, which had been my rationalization for the sore quads from Hope.

As early as 10 miles into the run, I was feeling some of those tell-tale signs with regards to the quads and had something of a sinking feeling in my stomach (which by the way was in fine form). Nonetheless, I settled into the early going with Timmy after catching up to him somewhere along the ridge and tried to put those thoughts out of my mind. We caught up with each others' goings on for a bit and then settled into an easy rhythm, pacing off each other for the miles we shared. Dave Mackey joined us somewhere along here and the pace picked up a notch as we ran along the Foresthill Divide to Red Star Ridge and then onto the Duncan Canyon aid station.

The Duncan aid station always seems a little frenetic being that it's the first crew access point and there's usually a good group coming in together. And today was no different. Brian, Rob and Kristy - my Duncan/Dusty crew - were totally on point through the aid station and I was in and out quickly, picking up an ice bandana and getting fresh bottles. The temperature through to Duncan had been entirely reasonable - just a touch toasty on the southern exposures of the ridge, but almost perfect otherwise. Nonetheless, we all knew the inferno of the canyons was coming.

Coming into Duncan with Dave. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
Into and out of Duncan Canyon itself things remained pretty comfortable, but by the time we hit the high point above Robinson Flat - from whence there is an awful lot of downhill running - the heat was finally upon us. I entered Robinson with Hal, Timmy 100 meters ahead and Cameron a reported two minutes up the trail. On the switchbacked, tree-less descent from Little Bald Mountain, I had the field in front of me and took stock.
Just starting the descent from Little Bald Mountain. Photo: Michael Lebowitz
The defending champ was leading, Cameron looked like he was starting to slow and Hal would, as always, be something of a wildcard. Behind me in close proximity I knew there were a ton of talented guys waiting in the wings. The descent wasn't feeling particularly comfortable and I sensed that I was taking too much of the impact in my already aching quads. At this point there was really nothing I could do but hope for the best. I stopped to take a pee because I needed to, but also because I wanted the guys in front of me out of sight so I could quit worrying about them and focus on getting through this thing without a major blow up. Thirty miles in and I was already thinking damage control. The good news was that my stomach was still processing gels without complaint.

Coming into Dusty Corners and still eating well. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
Dylan and Rob Krar caught up to me a couple of aid stations later, just after Last Chance I think. They had been running together all morning and it was nice to have a bit of company as we rolled past the old mining equipment of years gone by. Dylan let me lead the descent to the Swinging Bridge, an awkwardly graded and heavily switchbacked section that deserves respect. Last year we hit this section as a group of five or six, caning it way too hard; this year by comparison I set a very cautious tempo and was shocked to see Dylan and Rob lose ground behind me. Knowing how fast Rob is, I was incredibly impressed with his self control at this point in the race. At just under 50 miles the drop to the Swinging Bridge and subsequent climb up the canyon wall to Devil's Thumb is a critical point in the race.

After a solid dousing at the spring on the Devil's Thumb side of the canyon, we hiked and ran the 1,300 feet up to Devil's Thumb together. Right on cue, my stomach started heading south on me. I almost feel like I wish it upon myself sometimes. I'd been thinking about how solid it had been up until that point, accepting and digesting 250 gelled calories an hour with no complaints, and then - boom - it suddenly put the kibosh on any further gel consumption for the day. From there until the finish, I was on coke and/or EFS sports drink the whole way. The two additional gels I did consume where forced and highly gag-worthy.

Topping out the Devils Thumb climb with Rob and Dylan. Photo: Salomon
Ian Sharman caught up to me on the way out of the Devil's Thumb aid station and I started thinking a bit about the Grand Slam record and our little race within the race. We ran the next five or six miles together down to El Dorado Creek with me leading and Ian making some very strange noises behind. We didn't talk much, mainly because I wasn't in the mood, and with the silence and our somewhat 'race-like' downhill pace there seemed to be an unspoken realization that we were going to be doing a lot of this over the summer. I let Ian go on the climb up to Michigan Bluff, realizing again that I just didn't have my 'A' game with me today. Ultimately Ian would put 36 minutes on me over this first leg of the Grand Slam, but as we both know there is still a very long way to go and the real racing doesn't start until we get into the Sawatch and Wasatch Mountains.

And so it went. I hiked way more of the climb up to Michigan Bluff than I ever have before, feeling lazy but trying to convince myself that this was sensible given the heat. Mike Morton went by me in a very methodical manner as we closed in on the Bluff and I stumbled into the old mining town somewhat discombobulated. Bob and Sue Gerenz, my fantastic crew/pacers from Minnesota were there waiting. They took great care of me, cooling me off by wrapping a sopping and freezing cold towel around me, and generally making sure I had everything I needed. Now in seventh and dropping places, however, I was beginning to wonder if I'd crack the top 10 this year.

Cooling off at Michigan. Photo: Gary Gellin. 
Fortunately, I never suffered a full-on meltdown. The road to Volcano Canyon was slow and I shamefully hiked a whole bunch of the uphill grade here, again using the heat as an excuse. I did regain some composure by Bath Road and by the time I found myself hitting the Cal Loop with pacer Rob Barnard in a fresh pair of socks and M2s I was once again vaguely interested in what was going on ahead of me. Maybe I could catch Ian or Dylan, who were consistently 10-12 minutes up on me at the intermediate aid stations down to the river. I passed a hurting, walking and clearly done Hal between Cal 1 and Cal 2 - always a cheap and unrewarding way to pick up a place. I dropped Rob who was off the side of the trail barfing in the heat, but I couldn't pick up any ground on Dylan and Ian.

By the river I was firmly locked into sixth place and just trying to survive to the finish. Boats across again this year, which really pissed me off. When you've been staring at a cool-looking river for over an hour in 100+ degree heat dreaming of nothing but its cool healing powers, to be shoved into a boat is something of a let down ... to say the least.

Craig, if you happen to read this, I want to ford the river next year!

Dreaming of a cool river crossing. Photo: Michael Lebowitz
But denied again. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
I found a nice hole on the other side of the river and submerged for a good long time. Given that I had no hope of winning or getting on the podium at this point, I did actually start thinking about Vermont and the Grand Slam and made a conscious decision to go into 'damage control' mode over the last 20 miles. This meant giving up extra minutes to Ian, but would hopefully allow me to go into Vermont a little less beat up.

So good. Photos: Glenn Tachiyama
The run up to Green Gate felt quite comfortable despite the heat and I was surprised at how quickly ALT and Browns Bar with Bob came and went. I certainly wasn't killing it here, but I was at least running at what I thought was a decent enough clip to stave off any potential challenge from behind. At Browns I got the news that Dylan was 17 minutes up on me, which meant he'd put five on me since the river. I was okay with that, but noticed a significant lull in drive and speed from there until Highway 49.

At highway 49 I was happy to pick up my good buddy Brian Stefanovic, but kind of bummed to also be picking up a light, final confirmation that my day had not played out the way I had hoped it might. Halfway down the descent to No Hands Bridge, with four miles to the finish, I finally had to turn it on - the first time I'd used a light in my four times on the course. Brian filled me in on the fact that there was nobody within half an hour behind and from there I just plodded along at a totally uncommitted pace resolving to finish up in as easy a pace as possible with Vermont firmly at the forefront of my mind.

Regardless of how the first 100 miles of the race played out, the last .2 on the track were as enjoyable as any before. To finish any 100 miler is an accomplishment worth celebrating and to finish top 10 at Western States is always gratifying, whether it be M3, M4 or M6.

Photos: Glenn Tachiyama

Dylan came and found me a half hour later as I was laying on a cot in the med tent trying to equalize a sour stomach. Of course he launched into details of his projectile vomiting episode on the way down to the river, which all seemed rather amusing, but then he proceeded to tell me that he downed two gels immediately afterwards. My reaction was immediate and violent. Finally the green gremlin was out of my system and 10 minutes later I was able to enjoy a delicious pizza from the good folk at Firetail Pizza who stepped up this year to provide post race food for runners - a detail that has been sorely lacking in previous renditions of the race. 

To finish up, I have to not only thank my motley crew from Colorado (Brian), San Francisco (Rob and Kristy) and Minnesota (Sue and Bob), but I also have to give a huge shout out to Abby McQueeney Penamonte, who I've been helping get ready for the Grand Slam this year, and who totally made my weekend by crushing her 24-hour goal, and against all odds finished tenth in the women's race beating some very accomplished runners in the process. Richly deserved, Abby. Congratulations!

Bob and Sue post race. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
F10 & M6.