Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Colfax Marathon

After almost 3 years of no road marathons, I have signed up for the Colfax Marathon, which is May 21 here in Denver. The last time I really focused on a road marathon was the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in Phoenix in 2013, though I did run a 3:04 at the Colorado Marathon in 2014 (was not a focused effort). I am excited to lace 'em up and give Colfax a go.

At this point, I have some tiered goals for Colfax, each of which gets me to the BIG goal, which is to qualify for Boston in 2018. I am not 100% certain I will go back to Boston (last did it in 2007), as I really enjoy skiing and not training hard over the winter, but it will be nice to have the option. So, the tiered goals are:

1) 3:10 or better - would mean I beat my BQ by 5 minutes, virtually guaranteeing me a spot in Beantown next year.

2) 3:05 or better - this has been my typical road marathon time over the past few years.

3) Sub-3 - the last time I ran a sub-3 was 2009!

Between now and then, I will be focusing on mile repeats and increasingly long tempo runs. Game on!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How I'm Going to Be Ready for Leadville

My race schedule for 2017 is firming up quite nicely. Going into 2017, I kind of wanted to run a road marathon and go for a Boston Marathon qualifier time but I didn't know how that might fit into the mix, or if I was willing to put in that kind of training. But over the past few weeks, I have been doing some quality workouts, like track intervals and tempo runs, and I plan to keep it up as it seems to be improving my turnover. I've also gotten in a few 20-milers and plan on another one tomorrow. My weekly mileage is between 60-65 right now...a nice early season base. As this process has unfolded, the road marathon has entered my mind. I do want to go back to Boston.

Top-end speed has always been an asset of mine as a long-distance runner. I can think back to several races where I was in a sprint finish against another surging runner and managed to cross first (my banner photo captures one of those moments). And yet, over the past few years, I have definitely felt it slipping due to aging. And not just top-end speed. I am losing speed all the way around. Use it or lose it. So I am working hard right now to get some speed back.

I still have a long way to go before I consider myself ready for a Boston qualifier effort on the road but things are coming together and I am eyeing the Colfax Marathon on May 21. I would be thrilled to cross the finish line in under 3 hours and 5 minutes.

People say to me often, "a marathon must be easy for you!" My response has always been that if all I had to do was run 26.2 miles at a slow pace, then, yes, it wouldn't be that hard for me or nearly any ultrarunner. But to "race" that distance in pursuit of a goal time...super hard. When you are racing 26.2 miles on the road, every second counts. It hurts and the pressure is on. I kind of like that!

When I was on a nice run in 2008-2009, breaking 3 hours in three consecutive marathons, the effort I put into those races was significant but, being in my mid-30s at the time, I recovered pretty quickly and moved on to the next thing. When I look at 2009, for example, I am shocked by what I was able to do within my own abilities. Now that I'm 43 years-old, I am well-aware that, after a potential BQ attempt at Colfax this spring, I will need some recovery. That's what First Endurance Ultragen is for! But the recovery window will need to be limited because Leadville is on the horizon.......

From Colfax (haven't yet pulled the trigger on it, but it's likely), it's going to be the Leadville Trail Marathon on June 17, the Chase the Moon 12-Hour on July 7-8, and then the big one...the Leadville Trail 100-Mile. I will use the Leadville Trail Marathon as a long training run up high. It will not be a race effort. Same with Chase the Moon, where the goal will be 50 "easy" miles in 12 hours, which I feel is quite doable. I had considered making the Silver Rush 50-Mile Run up in Leadville my 50-mile training effort going into the 100-miler but I feel that Silver Rush might put me in a recovery hole given that it's 50 miles above 10,000 feet in the mountains. Chase the Moon, which is hilly but not mountainous, seems a bit "smarter." When I look back on my running "career," all of my best 100s were preceded by 50-mile runs. So I feel strongly that I need a 50-mile effort and Chase the Moon fit the bill perfectly. Doesn't hurt that it'll be logistically easy to pull off, given that it's just up the highway from me.

Throughout the summer I will be making a point to get up high and train above 10,000 feet and ideally knock off some 14'ers. The name of the game is steep and high. On the list as of now are:
  • Grays and Torrey's Peaks - did these in 2013 and want to go back, but this time I will start from the lower parking lot right off I-70.
  • Hope Pass double crossing - required!
  • Longs Peak - will be logistically challenging to pull off but it's on the list. Backup would be Pikes Peak.
  • 20-30 mile effort on the Colorado Trail starting at Kenosha Pass.
  • A few new sections of the Colorado Trail, such as the section from Copper Mountain up to Camp Hale.
I feel that if I can get in several efforts above 10,000 feet, where the terrain is steep and nasty, I will be ready for a good crack at sub-24 at Leadville. I have two efforts of 22 hours and change at Leadville and would love to make a run at that kind of time but for 2017 I am gunning for sub-24. I know my stomach will go south, so it's really a question of how I minimize the impact. And I think that more training on steep terrain up high, all within weeks of 80-90 miles, will hopefully better condition my stomach for what will come on race day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Going Back to Leadville, the "Race Across the Sky"

Yesterday I got the absolutely awesome news that I've once again been selected in the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run lottery. I was super nervous! Many Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run qualifiers have sold out, which meant my list of backups (were I not selected for Leadville) was shrinking.

Even with five finishes going into the Leadville lottery, I just didn't know what my odds were. Were my odds the same as someone with no finishes, or did I have extra tickets or some other consideration that increased my chances? I just didn't know. Lifetime Fitness has the right to run the lottery how they see fit (so long as it's fair, which I'm sure it is), so I am not here to tell them what they should and should not do. But this I will say: Good on them for having a public event where the results were announced.

Actually, I do have one suggestion. Given that so many races quickly sell out these days, I might recommend that Lifetime move the lottery up a month, so it happens maybe right after the Western States drawing.

At any rate, I am so glad I'm in. The work to prepare begins now! I have my eyes on the 1,000-mile buckle, which hopefully will come in 2021. I am committed to it. But that'll be a topic for future posts.....

When I look at my Leadville finishes, I am well aware that my results are getting worse. I am sure aging is a factor, but so is my stomach. While, at this point, there is nothing I can do to stop the aging process or make my sensitive stomach ironclad, I am sure I can improve on things a bit. For starters:
  • I am going to increase how much time I train at elevations of 10,000 feet and more. This will require some short-term sacrifices, for sure, but it should help get me better-prepared for the Leadville elevations..... 
  • I am going to put a greater emphasis on vertical gain so as to reduce the stress on my body (and stomach) of the big ups and downs that Leadville brings. This will mean a somewhat smaller emphasis on pure volume.
  • On big outings to the mountains, I will practice raceday nutrition. This one is a no-brainer.
  • I'm going to have fun. There are some runs that I'm eager to finally do this summer....
I am not so naive to think all of the above, plus a few other things like using Ultragen for recovery and Optygen to boost performance, will result in a race without stomach issues. I will have stomach issues; the key is to minimize their impact as much as possible. But if I do what's listed above, it will help, especially on the Hope Pass section, which has cost me a ton of time in recent years.

So the 2017 schedule is now shaping up nicely. I am in the Leadville 100 (August 19) and also the Leadville Trail Marathon (June 17). I am looking to add in a spring road marathon (maybe Colfax on May 23) and potentially a summer 50-miler, such as Silver Rush. Silver Rush is about 6 weeks prior to the 100, so really good timing.

Congrats to all who got in! It's going to be an awesome 2017!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Leadville summer

With 2017 just around the corner, I may be one of the only runners without a definitive race schedule for next year. The reason I don't have a schedule (yet) is that I am waiting anxiously to hear the results of the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run lottery. The lottery results will be shared in mid-January.

For some reason, I have never been more nervous about my chances of getting drawn in the Leadville lottery! I simply don't know if I'm getting in, even with five big buckle finishes. Given that I have made the commitment to earning the 1,000-mile buckle (I am halfway there!), my hope--my wish--is that my name will be pulled from the hat and that I'll be among the lucky folks lining up at 6th and Harrison at 4am next August 19 for 100 miles of fun. Because--well--there is no place I'd rather be in that moment in time. No place.

Not to go on a tangent, but Leadville is such a unique experience. I have never run a race like it. The energy, the holy-sh%t factor...just epic. That's why I keep coming back. Leadville has become not just what I do every August; it's become who I am. When I am not in business attire, you can find me wearing one of my Leadville shirts and always my black Leadville hat. It's my identity. 

So, if all goes to plan, I will get into the 2017 race and earn that 1,000-mile buckle in 2121, when my son is 13 years-old and able to pace me from Mayqueen to the finish. And when we cross the line together, my hope is that the gift of this race will pass from me to him (unless I decide to gun for the 2,000-mile buckle!). It'll be his if he wants it.

If I get into Leadville, the schedule for 2017 will quickly fall into place:
  • Spring marathon TBD 
  • Leadville Trail Marathon - June 17
  • Leadville Silver Rush 50 Run - July 9
  • Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run - August 19
Yeah, a Leadville summer it'll be. And if I don't get drawn in the Leadville lotto, it'll be decision time. I would have two options to consider.

The first would be to sign up for another 100 in the summer and then build out a race schedule that prepares me for whatever 100 that may be...a return to Mohican? Revenge on Bighorn (if Bighorn is even open then)? Run Rabbit Run? Who knows? The second would be to go to Austin in April and try to grab a slot for the Leadville 100 at the Rattler. This option would be far from ideal and, honestly, I would probably not do it because I don't want that many unknowns surrounding a sport that is supposed to bring me happiness. So, if I don't get into Leadville, I'll likely be looking for another 100 in 2017.

So, here's to hoping I get into "the Race Across the Sky," lottery gods willing!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

That time when Gordy Ainsleigh helped me out at Michigan Bluff

Lately, I've been reflecting a lot on my experience at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run earlier this year. I am still a bit astonished I had the potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run that legendary race.

With the passage of time, the rugged experience from Squaw Valley Ski Resort to Auburn, California has become that much more special to me. With reflection, my disappointing 26-hour finishing time stings just a bit less. The narrative from that race has changed from a disappointing bronze buckle to a hard-fought, gut-testing finish in the greatest ultramarathon on Earth. The fact is that I got a chance to run Western States, and I finished it. If I'm lucky, I'll get one more chance to run it in my lifetime (my friend of 36 years, Matt Curtis, just got his second ticket back to Squaw).

With Western States founder Gordy Ainsleigh at the pre-race meeting.
Little did I realize that we would meet again......

For me, the crux of the race came down to the canyons, that notorious middle-third of the course where the mercury hits truly epic levels. Coming into the appropriately named Last Chance aid station (mile 43), we were warned about the high heat in the canyons ahead, especially Deadwood Canyon. "It's 110 down there...be ready," a volunteer said. Was I scared? A little, yeah. Over the years, I've read a lot of stories about depleted, emotionally and physically broken runners ending their races at Devil's Thumb (mile 47), which is atop Deadwood Canyon on the other side of that inferno. So, leaving Last Chance, I made sure I had plenty of ice in my Buff and in my hat and lots of cold water to sip on (they have lots of ice at Western States!).

Karl Hoagland, publisher of UltraRunning Magazine, left Last Chance at the same time as I did, saying to me, "24 hours is going to be close." Karl had run this race many times, and I so I knew that from here on out every second counted. Game on!

The drop into Deadwood was incredibly steep. That famous scene from "Unbreakable," when Kilian Jornet rips past Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka going down into Deadwood, does the canyon's steepness no justice. It is an insanely steep drop, much of it covered with leaves. When the day comes that I return to Western States, I will be ready for the drop into Deadwood. Man, was it steep...and hot...and dusty.

Making my way down into the canyon, I ran conservatively (looking back on, too conservatively), trying to protect my quads and stay as cool as possible. But the heat was rising. I felt I would be OK. In the weeks prior to race day, I'd done a good bit of heat training in 180-190-degree saunas--textbook Western States training. At no time in the actual race did I feel overly "hot," except for a few really sunny spots that came and went with the tree cover. I felt OK. The heat training had me ready, or so I thought. Only later on did I learn that the heat was really a silent killer...........

When finally I got to the bottom of the canyon and crossed the American River by bridge, I saw two guys wading in the water. I remembered then what a race veteran had told me a few days prior. "When you get to the bottom of Deadwood," he implored, "get in the river. It will save your race," the reason being that the cold American River water will lower your core body temperature, which in turn will do your gut a big favor.

With my Buff still a bit icy, I kept moving, skipping the opportunity to cool off in the river. I felt fine! This would turn out to be the single biggest mistake I made--and it would cost me. Feeling physically okay, I started the viciously steep climb out of Deadwood Canyon and up to Devil's Thumb--a climb that nearly destroyed me. I have done some steep ones in my day--Jemez in 2011, the backside of Hope Pass at Leadville quite a few times (to put it mildly)--but that climb out of Deadwood was in a league of its own, and I think it was not because of the sheer vertical but because my body temp started to rise.

Coming into the Devil's Thumb aid station, I was sweating profusely. My shorts were soaked all the way through. I had never sweated so hard in my life! And my stomach was starting to go south, probably due to overheating. Damnit! I should have gotten in the river! But it was too late for that. Now in the Devil's Thumb tent, I sat down and immediately had a handful of volunteers attending to me like I was an Indy car driver in a pit stop (this is the Western States way).

At Devil's Thumb, it was easily over 100 degrees and yet there I sat, shaking like a leaf and wrapped in a thick blanket! I couldn't control myself. They handed me some soup and I spilled it everywhere because I shook so badly. Then came the vomiting after I had some broth. Concerned, they asked if I had crew on the course and I said I did...my wife and son, my mom and dad, and a few buddies, Mike and Kenny, who would be pacing me after Foresthill. Thinking about my wife and son, I started to choke up. I felt as if my race was crumbling.

After checking my vitals, the aid station crew felt I could continue but instructed me to avoid taking any salt capsules. They thought maybe I'd taken in too many S!Caps. I needed salt, they said, but not that much. I heeded their advice and left with lots of water and a handful of salty snacks (which they gave me) that I could barely get down.

Incredibly, I rallied just a bit after Devil's Thumb and started running, making my way down into El Dorado Canyon, which was again very hot but not quite as hot as Deadwood Canyon. There's an aid station at the bottom of El Dorado Canyon and I stopped at it briefly but could barely get any calories in me. So I started the long climb up to Michigan Bluff, which sits at mile 55. There, I would finally see my family.

The carnage going up to Michigan Bluff was pretty epic. I saw a number of runners in distress, and I felt like I was among them...depleted to the core. All I wanted was to lay down and take a nap--a clear indicator of heat exhaustion. One foot in front of the other...... Finally, coming into Michigan Bluff after what felt like a never-ending climb, I saw my wife and son. I teared up a bit and said to my wife, "I'm having a tough race." When I saw the aid station, I immediately went for the cot and laid down--a first for me. My stomach was in horrid shape and I need to close my eyes and push the "reset" button. So I laid down and asked the staff to let me nap for 10 minutes, which they did. My wife and son were allowed into the tent with me, while my parents looked on, concerned, from behind the barrier separating the runners from the spectators.

When I woke up 10 minutes later, my stomach turned south and once again I started vomiting. It was an ugly site. The Ginger Runner actually mentioned how horribly sick I was in his interview with Brian Morrison not long after Western States. I was so sick. It was at about this time that a friend of mine had gotten ATV'd into Michigan Bluff with kidney issues. His race was over. Was mine over, too? I didn't know.

Laying there in the cot, I didn't know what to do. I was sicker than hell and had 45 miles in front of me. Then, out of no where, I saw this huge man walk under the tent and look at me. "What's going on here?" he asked the medical team. It was Gordy Ainsleigh, who founded this crazy race 40+ years ago! Gordy, a chiropractor and true living legend, asked if he could work on me for a bit, to see if he could get my stomach in a better place (he had dropped from the race earlier in the day due to, I believe, IT band issues). I said yes. So he got to work, pressing on my gut and even doing adjustments to my neck. Meanwhile, my wife and son stood there, watching.

Gordy at work on yours truly at Michigan Bluff.
It looks like he's choking me with my Buff but I promise he's not!

After about 10 minutes, Gordy got me off the cot and walked me to the nearby food table. He told me I could--and would--finish this race, but admitted that 24 hours was probably now out of reach. I grabbed some salty snacks but he said to put them back down. Instead, he gave me some grapes and watermelon, saying I needed the sugar and water, not salty, fatty snacks. I thanked him. I even asked if he'd stand for a photo with my son, who had been wanting a picture with Gordy ever since seeing "Unbreakable." Gordy agreed, posing for a photo with my boy--a photo that I know my son will treasure one day.

As I left Michigan Bluff, I felt distress in my parents. I had spent easily a half-hour in the tent and had 45 miles in front of me. My dad, walking with me out of the crew zone, got choked up. He said to me, "Let's get this thing done, OK, son?" He was emotional. I was emotional. "I will, Dad," I replied. But I was more than emotional. I was in distress. Yet I knew I had experience to deal with tough races. I knew I had more than enough endurance to cover the distance. I had the requisite toughness. I knew deep down I could finish this race no matter what it threw at me.

The third canyon, the ominous-sounding Volcano Canyon, wasn't nearly as bad as the first two. No matter, it would take some time (I knew this) to come back from what Deadwood and El Dorado had done to me. And so my race in many respects hit rock bottom at Foresthill (mile 62), where I once again found myself down for the count with vomiting, chills and extraordinary fatigue.

But I got out of Foresthill, mostly because my wife ordered me out ("It's time to get going, Wyatt," she said firmly), and had a very solid stretch running down to the American River with my pal, Mike. That's a 16-mile "mostly downhill" stretch that I ran quite well on. Yet the damage had been done. From the river (mile 78) to the finish was something of a death march. Oh, I ran a good bit of it, but I was absolutely depleted, coming into Brown's Bar (mile 90) having battled hallucinations and insanely painful chafing. So I slept at Brown's Bar for 10 minutes, hoping some shut-eye would stop the hallucinations (which it did).

From there on, it was all about "staying the course," as I said repeatedly to myself and my crew.  "Stay the course.... Stay the course."

My Western States didn't go as planned. It was a long, long day in rugged country and on punishing trails--a day-plus that I'll never forget. The so-called "Western States Killing Machine" had done her best to grind me up into nothing, but I refused to give up. I just kept putting one foot  in front of the other until I crossed that finish line with my son.

And that is how I finished Western States--one step at a time. I grinded it out.

If your name got pulled from the hat last Saturday, I congratulate you. You have earned a spot into a race that will change your life. If you didn't get pulled, don't give up. If you stay patient and committed, your day will come--just as it came for me.

Crossing the American River, mile 78. See, I came back!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Too Much Whining on Facebook...So Deactivated

Over the weekend, I deactivated my Facebook account. It has been quite surprising how many people have contacted me about it over the past two days, asking "where" I am.

For me, Facebook has always been a "necessary evil." As I've lived in 9 states over my life (Colorado will be the last!), it's been a great way to stay in touch with folks I care about....fellow runners, friends, past co-workers and of course family. But, lately, it's just gotten to be too much. Something tells me I am not alone in taking "a break."

Simply put, I am tired of logging on and seeing post after post from people whining about the outcome of the presidential election. I am very anti-Trump and proudly voted for someone else. But, even for someone like me, who opposes Trump to the core, the whining has been too much. And the non-stop whining is what led to my decision to pull the plug...for now. I am tired of people posting diatribes from non-reputable news outlets and pretending that said content is reputable.

I say "for now" (in reference to deactivating) because I am leaving the door for coming back to Facebook open, but it is also possible I will not. It is simply too upsetting to me to see friends yelling at friends, family turning against family, relationships coming to an end...all because of an election. I have not engaged in this madness--I have only watched it in horror. It is too much for me.

Many years ago, I worked political campaigns. Here's what I learned: Elections are won and lost. Sometimes your candidate wins. Sometimes he or she loses. If you're on the losing end, usually it's for specific reasons. Don't whine about it. Instead, figure out what went wrong, have a plan for addressing those failures going forward, get better people and learn from the mistakes so you don't make them again. But, above all, don't whine.

As runners, we don't take too kindly to whining. In races, as in life, stuff goes South. When that happens, you dig deep, get a plan, and keep going. When it hurts, it's OK to whine once or twice (under your breath). Hell, you can even shed a tear now and then (I did at Western States, when my race went to hell in a handcart coming into Michigan Bluff--and yet I finished). But whining and a flood or tears aren't going to get you to the finish line. What will get you to the finish line is a plan and "an inexhaustible supply of grit, guts and determination" (to quote Leadville 100 founder Ken Chlouber). That last thing--grit, guts and determination--is in short supply these days. I truly believe endurance athletes are leaders to the core.

In closing, I am glad I'm off Facebook. I do not miss it (at all). There are other places I can get updates on running...such as Ultrarunning Magazine, iRunFar, blogs, etc. And if I want to reach out to a pal, I can call or text him.

A final note..... My 2017 schedule is still coming together but as of now here's what it's looking like:
  • Spring marathon TBD (Colfax?)
  • Leadville Marathon
  • Leadville 100
I would love to do a late spring 50-miler, such as Jemez, but it might be hard to pull that off with scheduling/family engagements.

Here's to a life without Facebook. We'll see how long I can hold out, but so far I'm liking it.

Friday, November 4, 2016

3,000-Pushup Challenge and Possible 2017 Schedule

Inspired by fellow ultrarunner Andy Wooten, who is also an Aspen-based life coach, I embarked in October on an interesting challenge that was very much out of my wheelhouse: to complete 3,000 pushups in a single month. Andy completed this challenge in September. Intrigued, I decided to give it a whirl in October.

Unfortunately, I didn't get started with the challenge until October 3, meaning I went into it with a two-day deficit to make up. No worries! I love a challenge. I was able to quickly make up for the lost days and, in the end, finished the month with 3,110 pushups. My best day was 170 and my worst day--because of a sore shoulder that required rest--was 25. The average day saw 110-120 pushups over 4-5 sets.

I definitely got stronger as the challenge progressed and I put on some muscle, which might explain the three extra pounds I gained in October. By the midway point of the challenge, I found myself able to bang out 30 or 35 pushups with no effort. Here's how it all unfolded:

For November, why stop the challenges? So I'm kicking around the idea of 1,000 pushups and 2,000 crunches and have already started. I figure a thousand pushups should maintain the strength I gained in October. As for the 2,000 crunches, well, it would be interesting to see what that brings. Then, in December, I may do 1,000 weighted air squats, 1,000 pushups and 1,000 crunches. Life is about variety!


I have begun to kick around what races I may do in 2017. Earlier in the fall, I went through this phase where I actually considered signing up for the Tahoe 200-miler. I also looked at the Bigfoot 200, which looks insanely hard with over 100,000 feet of elevation change. While I am quite certain that at some point I will lace 'em up for 200 miles (my maximum mileage in one clip is 131 miles--what's 69 more?), I don't think 2017 is the year to do that. But when that time comes, I am thinking Tahoe will be the ticket unless some other intriguing 200-miler surfaces.

Anyway, as far as 2017, I am entering the Western States lottery as I desperately want back into "the Big Dance." I absolutely know I can improve on my 2016 time by 3+ hours--starting with going into the race fresh and not cooked from overdoing it at a race three weeks prior. But with one ticket in the lottery (had to start over after my finish in 2016), I have a snowball's chance in hell of being selected. If by some miracle I am drawn, then the spring and summer would be built around Western States.

If I am not drawn in the WS lotto, then I will hope I'm drawn in the Leadville 100 lottery, which would mean that I'm committing to the 1,000-mile buckle. Which also means I'm committing to 500 more miles on that course....

That would mean 2017 might look something like:
  • Colfax Marathon in May or some other spring marathon 
  • Leadville Trail Marathon in June
  • Leadville 100-Mile in August
The summer of 2017 is looking fun!