Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mike Morton, Ultrarunning Legend

>>Go to my interview with Mike Morton!

>>Also see my in-depth story about Mike's life in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine

Every so often an ultrarunner does something that makes your jaw drop. Among the truly great performances/achievements in recent memory:
  • Matt Carpenter's record-setting 15:42 at the 2005 Leadville 100. Legend has it that Carpenter, the Pikes Peak Marathon king himself, ran every step of the course. My suspicion is that only two or three guys today could come close to what he did on that August day in the unforgiving Rocky Mountains.
  • Scott Jurek's seven straight Western States 100 wins from 1999-2005.
  • Ann Trason's 14 straight Western States 100 wins from 1989-2003. I doubt this record will ever be matched, much less surpassed.
  • Karl Meltzer's six 100-mile wins, including four course records, in 2006 (HURT 100, Hardrock 100, Wasatch 100, Bear 100, San Diego 100 and Javelina 100)
  • Bruce Fordyce's world record 50-mile time of 4:50, set in Chicago, in 1984. Folks, that is insane.
  • Don Ritchie's world record 11:30 for 100 miles, set on a London track in 1977
  • Yiannis Kouros' world record 188+ miles for 24 hours, set in Adelaide (Australia) in 1997. This record will stand for generations.
  • Kyle Skaggs' record-setting 23:23 at the 2008 Hardrock 100. People were stunned.
Those are just a few that come to mind.

Legends, indeed. L-R: Courtney Campbell, Dave Horton and Mike Morton, apparently at the Rattlesnake 50K in 1997. From
This past weekend, we saw a remarkable performance at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic, a trail race in North Carolina with 16 bridge crossings. As a historian by academic training, I feel obligated to write about this performance--because it was truly legendary.

Details are still a little sketchy, but apparently 40-year-old Mike Morton, a Navy diver from Maryland, covered 163.9 miles, running about 108 laps around the 1.52-mile trail loop. That's about 2 miles under the American record, held by Scott Jurek, who set the record on a flat, hard-surface course. Apparently, Morton battled 90-degree heat and course congestion in spots. Oh, and by the way, he nailed over 153 miles at Hinson last year.

Here are Mike Morton (L) and Courtney Campbell (R) at the 1997 Trail Run Across the Commonwealth. From
Folks, this is remarkable.

That's only part of the story. Here's the rest. The name Mike Morton may not mean much to newcomers to the sport and/or those who haven't studied the history of ultrarunning, but to those who have been around a while and those who have read their ultrarunning lore, Mike Morton is a legend. Here's some history from former Western States 100 race director Norm Klein:
The Morton Comeback
The only words necessary to describe the 1997 [Western States 100) race are "Mike Morton." A U.S. Navy diver from Maryland, Mike had a difficult time in the 1996 race, withdrawing after 86 miles. Certainly no stranger to ultramarathoning with victories at the Old Dominion 100 and the Vermont 100, Mike returned to Western States with just one thought in mind: make up for 1996.
It has been repeated a thousand times over that no runner can win Western States without having the advantage of training on the Western States Trail. Most experienced runners will contend that knowledge of the trail is worth at least two hours off the total time. Further proof of this is that in the first 23 years of the race, there had never been a men's winner who didn't live in California. And furthermore, every winner since 1987 had lived in Northern California. Well, Mike Morton apparently wasn't privy to the prevailing knowledge.
Fortunately for everyone involved, weather conditions on raceday were the finest in the history of the race. Temperatures never topped 80 degrees, and the night was very cool, although by the time Morton arrived in Auburn, the sun hadn't even had a chance to go down.
Mike took the lead at 17 miles, and when he arrived at Robinson Flat (30.2 miles), everyone felt he would "lose it in the canyons." All he lost when he hit the canyons were the runners who were pursuing him. At Foresthill (62 miles) people said, "he'll crash and burn on California Street Trail." The only things Mike burned were the rocks as he blazed over them. At the river crossing (78 miles), the sentiment was "he'll never finish at that pace!"
Not only did Mike finish at that pace, but he also became the first non-Californian to win the race, defeating Tim Twietmeyer (who finished second) by an hour and 33 minutes. To those who thought he'd crash and burn, instead Mike burned Tom Johnson's course record by 14 minutes. Skeptics felt that if an "outsider" won, he wouldn't be accepted by the "Western States family." I've been involved in 15 Western States awards ceremonies, and Mike Morton received the loudest and longest standing ovation I've ever witnessed.
That was taken from a May/June 1998 Marathon & Beyond article, which you can read here. Apparently Morton, who also won the Vermont 100 in 19955, the Massanutten 100 in 1996, and the Mountain Masochist 50M in 1997, soon after endured a rash of injuries that more or less derailed his career. When I searched his results, it looks like he didn't do much, if any, racing from 1997 to 2009. (Update, thanks to Footfeathers' investigative work: Morton ran in the 2007 JFK 50M, finishing 26th overall with a 7:15, and finished second overall at the 2010 Weymouth Woods 100K with an 8:57). From what I've seen, Morton seems to have evolved into a once-or-twice-a-year racer who has a penchant for opening up a can of whoopass when he shows up to an event. When Mortons' toeing the line, you better be wearing your fast shoes.

Morton at the 2011 Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic. From
I wonder what my own performances would be like if I raced only once or twice a year, instead of 7 or more times like I've done so far this year with the Eisenhower Marathon, Cheyenne Mountain 50K, Jemez Mountain 50M, Mount Evans Ascent, Leadville Trail Marathon and Leadville 100M....

The Hinson Lake leaderboard at 23 hours. From
Anyway, in my book, what Mike Morton did at Hinson Lake over the weekend is Performance of the Year. When you consider the course and the conditions, it's a slam dunk in my book. When you consider the runner, it's the stuff of legend.

Norm Klein wrote of Morton's 1997 Western States as a comeback. Fourteen years later, at the age of 40, are we seeing yet another Morton return to domination?

>>Go to my interview with Mike Morton!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

10 Things I Think I Think (Ultrarunning Edition)

Man, the ultrarunning blogosphere has been alive lately with new and creative insights, banter and even controversy! Taking a page from the playbook of Sports Illustrated's Peter King and GZ himself, here are 10 things I think I think.

1) This isn't the first time a non-North American might be considered deserving of the Ultrarunner of the Year Award...and yet is ineligible. First off, understand that UROY goes to the top North American male and female ultrarunners and is awarded by Ultrarunning Magazine, which has been around since the days of the mimeograph, bicycle messenger and C.C. Pyle. I'm not even kidding. A panel of 18 race organizers from all regions of North America submit ballots. Which is to say the award is specifically for North American athletes (read: US and Canada).

Yiannis Kouros
Getting back to my original point: There may be some who claim Kilian Jornet of Spain is clearly the top ultrarunner for 2011, and what a shame it is that he can't get UROY so they say. And since The King himself isn't eligible for UROY, well, let's just blow up the award since it's clearly out of whack with the now-international nature of the sport. Now for a history lesson for those who think ultrarunning has only recently gone international (or, as one person recently wrote, "going going gone international"). Back in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s--yeah, I know, ancient history--there was a guy named Yiannis Kouros who was from Greece (and later Australia) and dominated the sport like no one else, and yet he was ineligible for UROY. For those unfamiliar with Yiannis, he has the world records for 24 hours, 48 hours, 6 days, 100 miles, 1,000 kilometers, 1,000 miles and even 12 hours. He once ran 188 miles in 24 hours for a world record. Let me say that again: he once ran 188 miles in 24 hours, which breaks down to 7.8 miles per hour, or 7:41 per mile. That's a hefty 23 miles beyond Scott Jurek's current America record of 165.7. I think Yiannis even once ran to the moon..and a single day. He's also won the 153-mile Spartathlon race more than any other person in the history of the Earth. And yet he never scored Ultrarunner of the Year since it's a North American honor.

The takeaway is this: We love to think all things here and now are bigger and better (and sometimes worse, as in the current Great Recession) than anything that's ever happened before. That's often not true. If it happened today, it probably happened before. There's a precedent for almost everything. You just have to find it. Exhibit A: Kilian Jornet as today's Yiannis Kouros--only with freakish trail skills (and not quite the pure speed The Great One had). Let's not go overboard in dissecting UROY and just enjoy the award for what it is...a great honor for deserving North American ultrarunners.

2) Even though I'm still figuring out the 100-mile race, I believe success in 100s comes down to consistency with training over a long period. Show me the guy/gal who consistently runs back-to-back 20s, along with a steady diet of daily mileage and quality (along with some recovery), and I'll show you someone who will, nine times out of ten, beat the weekend warrior who runs 30 or 40 on Saturday, takes Sunday off or super easy and then sleeps in too much during the week.

3) It's not the elite guys and gals who make ultrarunning interesting and inspiring. It's the guy you meet at a race or in your local club who used to smoke three packs a day and/or drink himself under the table and then one day a light went off and he decided to go for a run. These guys--you know, the ones with leathery skin, endless war stories to tell, ankle gaiters and a closet full of buckles--are truly the toughest among us, grinding out 28- or 29-hour 100s because they love it. We all know one or two of these guys. I do.

4) Contrary to prevailing wisdom, success in the last 40 miles of a 100 isn't all mental. Don't get me wrong; mental toughness is a huge part of those final 40 miles. But what really counts is whether or not you did the right kind of training. Physical strength feeds a strong mind.

5) Ultrarunning is never going to be mainstream, but it will continue to grow. Running 50 miles, 100 kilometers or even 100 miles is never going to be a mainstream endeavor. Most people think marathons are insane. Though ultrarunning is a huge part of our own lives, the bottom line is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have never heard of the sport or even Dean Karnazes.

6) It's a shame ultrarunning is now about trails and not also about the road. Ultrarunning's roots go back to time-based events on tracks as well as transcontinental runs. Not too long ago events like the Edmund Fitzgerald 100K, GNC Ultras and Olander Park 24-Hour--all road races--were among the premier races in the nation. They're all gone now (note: The North Coast 24 in Cleveland has kind of replaced the old Olander Park races, which were near Toledo, while the Lt. JC Stone 50K has kind of replaced the GNC Ultras and is actually run on the same course, though it doesn't offer a 100K option). Bucking the shift toward the trail, the Badwater Ultramarathon continues to thrive but is still pretty niche.

7) I worry about crap that is a waste of time for me to worry about. Why should I care that USATF national championship races fall short in attracting the best in the sport? Why should I care about Salomon Running, Ultrarunner of the Year, the death of the Ed Fitz, etc., etc.? My only concern as far as ultrarunning goes should be the next training run because that's living The Gift.

8) Spartathlon is, to me, more enticing than Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Spartathlon is a nearly 153-mile race between Athens and Sparta that is run on road and trail. Scott Jurek won Spartathlon three times. It's on my bucket list big time--way ahead of UTMB. So is Comrades. At the end of the day, I'm a road warrior.

9) The marathon is hard to figure least for me. It's easy to run 20 miles hard. What's not easy is figuring out the right pace that is sustainable for 26.2 miles and gets you to the finish line with a new PR and nothing left in the tank. My current marathon PR is 2:58. Honestly, I should be down in the mid 2:40s.

10) Running a 100-mile race in 29 hours is harder than running it in 15 hours. When you see the sun rise for a second time (which I've never seen, thank God), you've been out there grinding away for a long, long time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Interview with Geoff Roes

Geoff Roes really needs no introduction. But, for those unfamiliar with the 35-year-old ultrarunning legend, allow me this opportunity. Originally from New York (which explains why the Mets are his favorite sports team--something we have in common), Geoff hails from Juneau, Alaska and also lives part of the year in Nederland, Colorado with his girlfriend, Corle, and her daughter. In 2009 and again the next year, Geoff was voted Ultrarunner of the Year, unanimously earning the prestigious North American honor in 2010. Take one look at his record of domination in those years, which included a streak of nine consecutive 100-mile wins that started in 2007, and it's easy to see why.

Photo by Steven Wohlwender Photo

In 2009 alone, Geoff set new course records at the HURT 100-Mile in Hawaii, the 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing in Alaska, the Wasatch Front 100-Mile in Utah, the Bear 100-Mile in Utah and Idaho and the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile in Virginia. His Wasatch record, a blazing time of 18:30 on a technically difficult mountain course with 54,000 feet of combined elevation change, was voted the Performance of the Year in 2009.

Incredibly, 2009 was but a preview of things to come. Perhaps Geoff's greatest year to date, 2010 started off with strong wins at the American River 50-Mile and, a month later, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile in New York. But his crowning achievement of the year happened in late June, when Geoff set a new course record at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, beating the likes of Anton Krupicka (second) and Kilian Jornet (third) despite energy problems midway through the race. His 15:07 at Western States, considered the "Super Bowl" of the sport, was voted Performance of the Year in 2010. Following Western States, Geoff collected impressive wins at Crow Pass Crossing, the Run Rabbit Run 50-Mile in Colorado, and The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile in Georgia. His year ended with a strong second at the uber-competitive The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50-Mile in San Francisco.

This year, despite a DNF at the Bandera 100K, got off to a great start with wins at the challenging Chuckanut 50K in Washington State, Zane Grey 50-Mile in Arizona and DRTE 100-Mile in California. Geoff also finished a narrow second in the Prince of Whales Marathon in Alaska, just 3 seconds behind the winner. Things started to unravel a bit at Western States, where the defending champion DNF'd due to cold-like symptoms. Despite an impressive follow-up win at the 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing (his third consecutive win there), his struggles in the latter part of 2011 continued with a DNF at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in France--a DNF he attributed to burn-out. Through it all, he's upheld the best traditions of the sport, cheering Kilian Jornet on as the freakishly talented Spaniard neared the Placer High School track for his 2011 Western States 100 victory lap (go to 4:30 in this video to see) and founding two Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps, which he will expand in 2012.

Following some needed R&R, this weekend Geoff will toe the line at the inaugural Ultra Race of Champions 100K (aka UROC), where he and a deep field of other elites will square off in the mountains of Virginia.

Despite his genuine humility and known good-guy nature that have won him thousands of adoring fans, Geoff is not without a few vocal critics. Recently, he was criticized after writing on his blog that 2011 was "probably...the most enjoyable year of running I've ever had." "How," asked a few horried naysayers, "could he say that...given his two big DNFs at Western States and UTMB?" What was lost in the pile-on was Geoff's own admission in the very next sentence that "having 2 big dnf's in my top races of the Summer season has been a bit unsatisfying."

Geoff is a member of the prestigious Montrail Ultrarunning Team and his sponsors also include Mountain Hardwear, Clif Bar, Nuun, Nathan, Udo's Oil and Ryders Eyewear. You can learn more about Geoff via his blog at

It's a pleasure to have this opportunity to hear from the man himself. Enjoy!

WH: Geoff, thanks for this opportunity. It is truly an honor to "talk" with you. Let's get right down to it. You've been a dominant force in ultrarunning for the past few years, setting course records at premier races like Wasatch and Western States and excelling not only at the 100-mile distance, but also in 50-mile and 100K races. Last year, you ran a record 15:07 at Western States and once again won Ultrarunner of the Year. This year, despite strong wins at races likes like Crow Pass Crossing, Zane Grey, Chuckanut, and DRTE in Santa Barbara, we've seen some struggles that included DNFs at Western States and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, which you attributed to burn-out. Looking back on the last nine months and ahead, too, how do you view 2011...and what's next?

GR: Thanks for remembering that I've actually had some good races this year. I guess I've set a tough standard for myself when I win 4 of 6 races that I've run in the past 5 months and it's looked at by most as a "bad year". Obviously I would have loved to run better at WS and UTMB, but those were two of 180 runs (to date) that I've been on this year. From a performance standpoint this has been a mediocre year for me, but that's the way it goes when trying to perform at the highest level of any pursuit. Ebbs and flows are just a part of everything we do in life. I was on a roll for a couple years, some other folks have been on some amazing rolls this year (Mackey and Jornet jump out the most). This is certainly a very fluid thing. A year from now we'll all be talking about other runners who are either in a bit of an ebb or a flow.

Photo by Luis Escobar

WH: You recently wrote on your blog that this has probably been your most enjoyable year of running yet. What did you mean by that?

GR: I'm not sure enjoyment can really be put into words. Basically just that I've been on several dozen really amazing runs this year. My primary running goal going into each of the past 3 seasons has been to be healthy enough and fit enough to spend huge amounts of time out in the mountains, pushing my limits, and sharing this with other like minded people. This year I have done more of this than ever before so it's hard not to be very satisfied by this.

WH: I've never had the pleasure of meeting you in person but, from what I've seen and heard, you have quite a gentle soul. I remember seeing a video about you in which your girlfriend, Corle, said you're the kindest person she's ever known. And yet on race day you seem to run with a red-hot competitive fire--as we saw at Western States in 2010. I hate to use the Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde comparison, but...when you get down to it, what drives you and makes you so dominant in races?

GR: I don't think there's a huge difference between my everyday mentality and my race day mentality. I really like to run. I really like to compete, but it's not too much of a cutthroat thing. For me the thrill of competition is in pushing myself in conjunction with other like minded folks who are also pushing themselves. When it all comes together just right the thrill of sharing that experience is all I need. Winning a competition like that is just icing on the cake. I've had some amazingly satisfying competitive experiences in which I haven't come out on top and some bland ones in which I have. The actual result is typically a very small part of the entire competitive experience for me. The irony of this I guess is that in some ways I think this approach/mentality is the one thing that has allowed me to have so much success in races. I just love to run and about 8 or 10 times a year I like to go out and run a route as fast as I can against a bunch of other folks who also love to run.

Geoff and Anton Krupicka at the 2010 Western States 100,
which Geoff won in a record-setting 15:07.
Photo by Luis Escobar
WH: You divide time between Juneau, Alaska and Boulder, Colorado. Lucky you! These are two beautiful places that afford spectacular trail running in some incredible mountain backcountry. Between Juneau and Boulder, do you have a preference?

GR: The running is very different in these two places. There are some things I like about the running in both places, but if I had to say I certainly think the running in Juneau is more satisfying to me than the running in Boulder. There's just so much more off the beaten path stuff to explore in Juneau and the terrain is out of this world in terms of beauty and difficulty.

WH: Let's talk about life in Juneau because it seems to be central to who you are. This summer, you organized (and founded) two Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps and said it was one of the best times of your life. Recently, you sent out a notice about three more camps in 2012. What makes the camps so special and what can participants expect to get out of the experience?

GR: These camps were a total leap for me. I really had no idea what to expect and what kind of form they would take. In the end I think I may have gotten as much out the experience as the participants. It was really fun to show people my "home", my style of running, my running community, and the amazing terrain I get to run in all summer. I wasn't sure how people would react to this, but it seemed like each of the 20 folks I shared this with had some valuable experiences. I feel like I made 20 new friends in the experience and look forward to doing it again next year. In terms of what people should expect I would say that they should expect to do some amazing runs, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and where things go beyond that is kind determined by the individuals and the collective mindset of the individuals that make up a particular session. The two sessions I did this year were similar in many ways but they were also very different, this due to the different desires, interests, and mindsets of the two groups.

Geoff and Anton at the 2010 Western States 100 finish. Photo by Luis Escobar
WH: What's an average training week like when you're preparing for a big race like Western States or UTMB?

GR: I don't have a whole lot of structure to my training so there is no typical week when preparing for a big race, but in terms of numbers I'll usually be somewhere between 80-120 miles per week leading up to a big race. I generally do a ton of vertical in training so a typical week would generally include 20,000-30,000 feet of ascent. In terms of hours, I'm usually somewhere in the 20-30 hour range as I'm leading up to a big event.

WH: Last year you wrote a few blog posts about the need for a single championship race that is accessible to anyone who wants in (versus a lottery system which might keep out some elites). Do you see the upcoming Ultra Race of Champions (aka UROC) in Virginia as meeting that need?

GR: I think UROC is a step in this direction. It's not the perfect race by any means and I'm interested to see where UROC goes after this year. I don't know that there needs to be a single championship race and I would guess that over the next few years we'll see a race or two at each of the popular ultra distances come forward as defacto championship type races. UROC has taken some criticism for being too focused on the front runners, but we already have hundreds of ultras which have little to no focus on the front runners. It's hard to imagine that races like UROC are going to threaten that status quo.

WH: We've seen Salomon Running, led by Kilian Jornet, have quite a year. As you know, Kilian won both Western States and UTMB, while Ryan Sandes won Leadville and Julien Chorier finished first at Hardrock. Salomon Running seems to have created a level of organization and support for its athletes that we haven't really seen before--almost like what we'd expect in competitive cycling. Do you think the Salomon Running model is the future of competitive ultrarunning and will other companies "buy" into it?

GR: I don't have a lot of insight into this. It's possible that Salomon has created a level of organization and support that we haven't seen before. But it's also quite possible that a handful of their top athletes have simply had some great races this year. A year ago Salomon had almost no runners near the front of the handful of races you mention here. It'll be fun to see what next year brings. I'm not sure 3 months of racing is enough to assume anything more than the fact that Kilian, Ryan, and Julien are all amazing runners.

Photo by Steven Wohlwender Photo

WH: I read that you have a background as a chef. In fact, I saw one of your recipes in a recent issue of Outside Magazine. As an elite athlete, what's your approach to nutrition, and when can we expect a Geoff Roes cookbook :-)?

GR: I don't have a very specific approach to nutrition. Like most ultrarunners I feel like I need to eat all the time to keep up with calories burnt. I try to eat a very balanced diet of a little bit of everything. Certainly I try to stay away from artificial ingredients and heavily processed food, but beyond this I pretty much eat everything in moderation. I eat more vegetables than just about anyone I know, but I also eat a lot of carbs, meat, and fat. I doubt you'll ever see a Geoff Roes cookbook, but you never know--if I continue to DNF at most of my races I guess I'll need something to boost my income :)

WH: Earlier this year you talked about the allure of Hardrock. What races are on your calendar for the rest of 2011 and into 2012?

GR: UROC this coming weekend. Not really sure after that. The only thing I know for sure for 2012 is that I'm going to be "running" the Iditarod Trail Invitational," a 350 mile race in Alaska, in February.

WH: Wow, a 350-mile race in Alaska in the dead of winter! How do you train for the Iditarod Trail Invitational? Are you going to do the 350 miles all in one go, or go in stages?

GR: The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a beast of a "race" that is so different than training for or racing single day events. Training for it is all about just getting out in the cold and the snow and just slogging around putting time on the feet. Living at almost 9,000 feet in Colorado will give me a perfect playground for training for this. It's not a stage race, but it does take the front runners between 5-10 days typically. You go when you want to go and stop for sleep when you want to stop for sleep. I'll be dragging a sled with almost all the supplies I'll need for the entirety (we do get two drop bags along the way) of the race. After almost 3 years of pretty constant training for/racing single day events, I look forward to the change of pace of something like this.

WH: One last question. When you're not out running trails, what do you most love to do?

GR: I love doing anything with my girlfriend and her daughter. We do lots of camping road trips, cook lots of good food together, watch movies, play at the park, ride bikes, certainly nothing too unusual.

WH: Thanks again, Geoff! I really appreciate your time!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trot 4 Our Troops 5K Race Report / A Confession

Today I ran my first 5000-meter race (aka 5K) in a little over two years. My last 5K was the 2009 Aurora Labor Labor Classic (Cleveland, Ohio), where I ran a 17:39 (5:39 pace) to set a new PR. At today's Trot 4 Our Troops 5K in Parker, I finished second overall with an 18:31 (5:58 pace), out of 122 finishers. Not bad for a cross-country course with some muddy spots, run at 5,900 feet in Salisbury Equestrian Park. Also, considering I haven't done much speed training in the last 5 months (during my Leadville 100 training), this was a pretty solid result.

The cool thing about Trot 4 Our Troops is that it benefits Youth for Parker as well as Project Sanctuary (for veterans), both nonprofit organizations involved in the Parker community. Anytime you can can help our troops, that's a good cause!

The race started about ten minutes late, due to a delayed flyover of four biplanes. The weather was perfect--50s, sunny and very little wind. These were "no excuse" conditions. Going into the race, I kind of figured I could win. But as soon as the gun went off, Scott Schrader, who I later found out lives in my neighborhood, was off at a blistering place. Seeing Scott work it, I realized he had an extra gear I didn't have. Still, I was working hard and trying to gain on him. My first mile, which consisted mostly of grass and dirt trail, was 5:59.

Not long into mile two, I started to feel the elevation. Going balls-to-the-wall at nearly 6,000 feet isn't easy! My second mile, which I ran in second place with a young, fast kid of about 16 not far behind me, was in 6:09. I wasn't happy with that split, but with lots of dirt, a little bit of mud, and some small hills mixed in, this wasn't a PR course.
Mile three was hard! The kid behind me seemed to be gaining on me. By this time, Scott was way ahead and so I wasn't worried about him anymore. The course was scantly marked in a few areas, adding a little bit of pressure as this kid was now nipping at my heels! I ran mile three in 6:07--two seconds faster than mile two.
The last tenth of a mile was a doozey! With the finish line in sight, lactic acid becoming a factor and the threat of oxygen debt, the kid behind me decided to drop the hammer. About 100 meters before the finish line, I could hear him behind me and quietly said an expletive starting with the letter "F," because I knew these last 100 meters were going to hurt. There was no way I was letting a kid pass me within 100 meters of the finish. So I dropped my own hammer and charged into the finish line in a full-on sprint. I beat this kid by maybe a half second a la a Mark Cavendish sprint finish! At the finish, I shook his hand--the kid had balls to try to take on an old man more than twice his age! Turns out he's a track star at nearby Legend High School. I like his attitude!

Now for my confession. I've bolded this paragraph because it's maybe the most important thing I've written all year. This was an important race for the following reason. At times this year I've secretly questioned whether I've lost my edge--the killer instinct. As a runner, I'm not very gifted talent-wise. What's helped me do some decent things with running has always been my killer instinct. I learned at the 5K today, when I sprinted for the finish to hold off that hard-charging, gutsy kid, that I'm still full of competitive juices. In a way, the ending of the race, however physically uncomfortable, provided a relief. I now know I still have the killer instinct and am not washed up. I need to let it guide me for the rest of the year and in the years ahead. In a way, it's really all I have as a runner. God didn't bless me with blazing speed or tremendous climbing and descending skills. Without the killer instinct, I'm just a guy out there going through the motions--and why bother to do that? It's good that I even recognize this now.

Back to the race.... The post-race festivities were great! With Anne and Noah there the whole time, we hung out and enjoyed pizza, barbecue and other treats. Scott and I talked for a little and exchanged phone numbers. Congrats to him on his win! He and I will be meeting for a run soon. I also got my second-place trophy at the award ceremony and collected a Best Buy gift card.
Trot 4 Our Troops is a great local race that I highly recommend. It's only in its second running but this year saw a sizable increase in the number of runners and many more vendors and sponsors. My only complaint is that the course could have been better-marked. Hats off to all finishers and the organizers for putting on a great race that benefits our troops and Youth for Parker.

Results here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

North Coast 24-Hour Predictons

There's a unique type of ultrarunner and it's the individual who runs for 24 hours around a ~1-mile paved loop. In 2009, I lined up for the inaugural North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run, held along the shores of Lake Erie in beautiful (yes, I said beautiful) Cleveland, Ohio. We lived in Cleveland at the time--5 of the best years of our lives (fully expecting he next 5 to be even better). I completed just shy of 131 miles that day, finishing a somewhat disappointing 9th overall. The last 5 hours are a blurr. Racing for 24 hours non-stop ain't easy! I plan to return to 24-hour racing if not this year, then next year, and will gun for 140+!

This weekend a little over 200 hard-ass athletes will toe the line for the third running of the North Coast 24, which once again serves as the USATF 24-Hour National Championship. National championship status, though a questionable distinction in trail races, nonetheless carries a lot of weight in the world of 24-hour racing. This weekend, as was the case in 2009 and 2010 at North Coast, many of the top time-based ultrarunners will be in Cleveland for some high drama! It will truly be a national championship joining the best. So, here are some predictions:

For the guys:

1) Zach Gingerich
The 2010 Badwater Ultramarathon champ, who finished 4th overall at this year's hot weather classic, will reign supreme. I believe this is his first 24-hour event, but he's used to running that long, plus some, and has the speed, toughness and pacing discipline to gut out the requisite 150+ miles and could, yes could, challenge the 24-hour American record (165.7 miles), held by Scott Jurek.
Post-race update: Finished 20th with 100.88 miles

2) Phil McCarthy
Earlier this year, Phil smashed John Geesler's 48-hour record, running a little over 257 miles at the Fair 24-Hour in New Jersey. Phil won the 2009 North Coast 24 with an eye-popping 151.5 miles and finished third last year with 138. Look for Phil to surpass 140 miles and snag another 24-hour national championship if he's on his game and Zach falters even a little.
Post-race update: Finished 1st with 153.37 miles. National champ!
3) Mark Godale
Mark, who hails from Cleveland, held the 24-hour American record of 162 miles for about 10 years, until Scott Jurek cranked out his 165.7 at the 2010 world championship. When he's on, Mark is tough to beat, especially in hometown races. We've seen this many times, as with his wins at the 2007 and 2009 Burning River 100-Mile races in Cleveland, along with a whole slew of other victories he's collected over his long and distinguished career. He will surely be the top master's runner, though the next guy might have something to say about that, which brings us to....
Post-race update: Finished 11th with 111.69 miles
4) Serge Arbona
Serge won the 2010 North Coast 24 with 155 miles. He's had a nice year, running 145 miles at Back on My Feet in July and a 14:33 (good for second overall) at the flat, fast Umstead 100, which, along with the Rocky Raccoon 10, is the anti-Hardrock 100 in terms of difficulty. It's hard not to have him in the top spot, and he very well could win this thing. He'll surpass 135 miles but I don't see him holding off Zach, Phil and maybe Mark.
Post-race update: Finished 5th with 129.77 miles

5) Michael Arnstein
I've seen this guy, known as "The Fruititarian," run and he's fast. This year alone, he ran a 2:30 at the Boston Marathon, won the Vermont 100, and placed 4th overall at the Leadville 100 with a fast 17:56. Yeah, he can flat-out haul ass. But can he stretch it out for 24 hours? If he can, look out. Michael Arnstein is my dark horse.
Post-race update: Did not start

Other dudes to watch for (in this order): Michael Henze, Matt Shaheen, Nick Coury, Bob Pokorny, and Brian Coughlin. Look for Michael and Matt to bust one out. Henze, like Arnstein, is a darkhorse--he can go north of 150 if he's having a good day (Note to reader: I'd inadvertently overlooked Michael but, thanks to Lloyd's comment, added him in. My bad!).

Now for the women, and it's a stacked field!

1) Jamie Donaldson
Do I even need to explain? Jamie is the three-time winner (three consecutive years--2008, 2009 and 2010) of the Badwater Ultramarathon and she's also a 24-hour machine. She hasn't run much at all this year, taking the 2011 Badwater off, and is presumably fresh. I'm not 100% sure Jamie will line up at North Coast, but if she does it's hers. Period.
Post-race update: Dropped after 6 hours with 39.63 miles

2) Connie Garder
Whether it's 100 miles or 24 hours, Connie is as tough as they come and was the top woman at North Coast last year, finishing second overall with a ridiculous 141 miles. A few years ago at a rather infamous race in Texas, she came within a hair of setting a new women's 24-hour record but got screwed by the RD. If Jamie DNS's, this is Connie's race. She's from Cleveland and this is her turf.
Post-race update: Finished 1st among women and 2nd overall with 144.72 miles. National champ!

3) Anna Piskorska
Anna has been a consistent performer at North Coast, racking up 132 miles in 2009 and 128 miles in 2010. She'll be in the hunt and could win if Connie and/or Jamie falter.
Post-race update: Finished 6th with 105.39 miles

4) Debra Horn
Debra, who is north of 50 years of age but you wouldn't know it by how she runs, is always a factor in 24-hour races and especially at North Coast. She's from Cleveland and will perform well in her hometown race, especially late in the game when it really counts. Pencil her in for 125+ miles.
Post-race update: Finished 2nd among women with 131.51 miles. Just like clockwork!

5) Lisa Bliss
Lisa, who was the top woman at Badwater in 2007 (before Jamie Donaldson went on her rampage), racked up a somewhat modest 117 miles at last year's North Coast race and is surely primed for a better result this year. In March, she ran 118 miles at Pacific Rim, winning the race. We'll see what she does this weekend. She's kind of a wildcard here.
Post-race update: Finished 2nd among women with 125.2 miles.

Did I miss anyone? Lemme know if I did!
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Interview with Nick Clark

Nick Clark is an elite mountain runner living in Fort Collins, Colorado. Most days, the 37 year-old, who works as a web editor, can be found running the beautiful and challenging trails of nearby Horsetooth Mountain Park and Lory State Park and actively participating in the booming Fort Collins ultrarunning scene. Born in Canterbury, Kent, a historic town in England, Nick excelled at competitive rugby and other teams sports through college, never really feeling pulled to running. But shortly after moving to New York City, he decided to run the 2003 Detroit Marathon, and then he and his family relocated to Colorado in 2006. Though still intrigued by the road marathon, Nick is a self-described "trail running junkie" and has firmly established himself as one of the US's top long-distance mountain specialists.

A member of the Pearl Izumi Ultrarunning Team, Nick exploded onto the scene at the 2010 Western States 100, where he finished fourth overall with a 16:05. But when you look at his 2010 results, it's obvious that Nick was a rising star well before toeing the line at Squaw Valley Ski Resort two Junes ago. Going into Western States, he'd won the Ghost Town 38.5-mile (course record), Bandera 100K (course record), Antelope Island 50K (course record), and Jemez Mountain 50-mile. After his break-out 2010 Western States, Nick went on to win the mountainous Wasatch Front 100-mile, which throws 54,000 feet of combined elevation at you, and finish high in the standings in several other races.

This year, Nick has turned the heat up even higher. After recording a 2:36 at the New Orleans Marathon in February, Nick went on a trail-running rampage, winning and setting a new course record at the brutally hard Jemez 50-Mile in New Mexico (where I first met him) and finishing a strong third at both the Western States 100 and Hardrock 100, run two weeks apart. He then followed up Hardrock with a win at the Speedgoat 50K, a treacherous mountain race in Utah. More recently, Nick uncharacteristically struggled at Utra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, recording a DNF late in the race.

In addition to Pearl Izumi, Nick's sponsors include Smith Optics, High Gear, Atlas Snow-Shoe Company, Nathan, 1st Endurance, Petzl and BodyGlide. You can follow Nick on his excellent, regularly-updated and appropriately-named blog at

Enjoy the interview!

WH: Nick, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I've talked with you a few times--first at the Jemez 50-Mile and then at the Leadville Trail Marathon this year--and I have to say you always come across as totally first-class, genuine and friendly. Jemez was a tough race for me and I really appreciated your interest in what went wrong and what I needed to do to get better. So I just want to say thanks for that!

NC: No problem. I'm a running geek so I'm always happy to talk running and especially to help problem-solve. Glad you found some utility in what I had to say.

WH: Now for the stuff that really matters to our readers. You have had yet another awesome year! You ran a 2:36 at the New Orleans Marathon back in February, and then went on a trail running rampage that included a record-setting 8:07:45 at the Jemez 50-Mile in New Mexico, maybe the toughest 50 in the nation; third overall at the Western States 100 with a ridiculous 15:50; third overall at the Hardrock 100 with a 27:43, held two weeks after Western States; and another nice win at the Speedgoat 50K, which you said is the toughest 50K you've ever done. With an incredible spring and summer of racing now behind you, how are you feeling...and what's next?

NC: It's now almost two weeks since UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) and, to be quite honest, I feel really good and actually quite enthused about getting out and enjoying some low-stress running. I figured I'd be ready for a big break after UTMB, but I guess I just love running too much. As far as race plans, I'll do the Silent Trails 10 miler up in Laramie, Wyoming next month, run a few road races, and then maybe think about trying to run a fast late-winter marathon. If I could run under 2:30, I think I'd finally have the whole marathon thing out of my system. I'm not the fastest guy in the world but I enjoy the process of getting into road shape. I'm also thinking very vaguely about The North Face 50-Mile in December, although it would take a big effort to get into competitive shape for that. I'd need to do lots of hilly tempo work, long runs, mile to four-mile repeats, and hill repeats to feel like I could compete. We'll see if I can find the motivation.

For next year, I'll put my name in for Hardrock and wait to see what happens in the lottery there. If I get in, then I'll center my season around that. If not then I may try and earn a Western States spot at one of the Ultra Cup qualifying races, or I may do something else. Leadville definitely has some appeal, UTMB maybe. But, really, it's totally up in the air at this point.

Nick finishing the 2010 Western States 100 with a scorching 15:50.
WH: Every great runner has a few tough races. More recently, you seem to have struggled a bit at Sierre-Zinal and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, two notable mountain races in Europe. Some folks have said maybe you were tired from the Western States/Hardrock double. In your blog, you said poor communication from race officials was a major factor at UTMB. Looking back on those two events, what do you think was going on?

NC: I wasn't expecting great things for Sierre-Zinal. My training all spring and summer was focused on the 100-mile distance, which means I was primed to run for a long time at a steady pace. Sierre-Zinal is about power and speed and I simply didn't have that. I was also still a bit fatigued from the Western States/Hardrock double, so it's really no great surprise that I didn't perform that well there. Two weeks later and I was running UTMB, and quite honestly I had very low expectations for that race too. I went out very easy and just plugged along all day. By mile 70, I had worked my way up to seventh from somewhere in the 20s and I legitimately felt like I had a shot at holding that and maybe even sneaking into the top five. I was definitely riding the line though and when I finally found out that we were being re-routed and they were adding a massive descent and climb in addition to mileage, I just fell apart. By the time we were back on course, I had given up mentally which in turn shut my body down. It was a disappointing way to end the summer season for sure, but the whole Switzerland/France running trip was a great experience, so no regrets.
On the communication thing, it was unfortunate and I don't want to make excuses, but it was definitely a major mental blow to learn that I was running all the way down to Martigny and back up over Col de la Forclaz to get to Trient rather than over Bovine, which was the route I was mentally prepared for. The descent to Martigny was crushing, and it was somewhere on the big climb up Col de la Forclaz that I fell apart mentally and gave in. Others got it done under the same circumstances, so definitely no excuse. I was tired going in, and as it turned out, I just didn't have that extra bit in reserve to overcome that last hurdle. Bummer.

Nick at the 2011 Hardrock 100.
WH: One of things I really admire about you is that, like many of us, you have a family and job (as a web editor) and still manage to get in your training in the mountains around Fort Collins, Colorado. Only with you, you somehow manage to run at a super-elite level. How do you do it all?
NC: I'm fortunate to have an understanding wife, a flexible job, and hilly trails out my front door, in addition to help from Pearl Izumi, but it's always a juggling act. I run in the early morning a lot, and can typically find a window during the day to get in a second run, but I still have to prioritize running over other activities at times to get the training done. I'm enjoying it right now and we make it work as a family, but I guess we'll see how sustainable it is to stay competitive from a motivation, age and time standpoint over the next couple of years.
WH: You mentioned possibly going for a 2:30 marathon later this year. You ran that 2:36 in February so you're pretty close. I share your enthusiasm for the process of marathon training--the intervals, tempo runs, etc. But, as you know, it's not easy! Tell me about your marathon training program.
NC: I think I'll need to be a bit more disciplined this time around if I decide to do another marathon. Last year, I managed to get off the trails enough that I was able to get into decent marathon shape, but I was still spending too much time in the hills jogging around. I didn't do nearly enough work at marathon pace in getting ready. I was good at getting out and doing weekly mile repeats at 5K pace - mainly because I enjoyed the group I was working out with - and I was also getting out most Thursdays for hilly road tempo runs where we would go 5 miles easy and then come back at half marathon effort. I will probably do both those workouts again this time around, but will need to get more serious about the long run. Rather than doing my long runs on hilly trail, I'll need to run the roads and look to finish them off with efforts at marathon pace. I will also need to get some long MP interval efforts in: 2x4 mile, 3x3 mile, 2x6, etc. I may actually drop my mileage versus last year too, so I can focus my time and effort on the workouts and recovery rather than the stamina.
WH: When I saw you descending Caballo Mountain at the Jemez 50-mile in May, I quickly realized that you're running on a whole different level than many others. When you get down to it, what drives you and makes you the super-competitive runner that you are? Is it a physical edge, a mental edge, or something else?

NC: I've played sports my whole life, and a lot of it at a reasonably high level, so I guess I just have a strong competitive drive.

WH: Your Western States/Hardrock double was beyond impressive. You finished a strong third in both races, which were separated by just two weeks. And, in the process, you broke Andy Jones-Wilkins' WS100/HR100 double record. Tell me about your recovery strategy in-between those races and how you were able to run so well at Hardrock, which has an insane 67,000 feet of combined elevation change in some of the most rugged backcountry in North America, on legs that should have been toast.

NC: No real recovery strategy other than to take things easy. I didn't run for a week after Western States, and then did some light jogging in the hills in the six days before Hardrock. Given that I was just 13 days removed from Western States going into Hardrock, I put very little pressure on myself to run well, so went in with the mindset that I was just there to have fun and survive. This meant that I went out very conservatively and never really tried to push things, which is probably I really good strategy for the 100-mile distance. I had the same mindset for UTMB and I think it would have paid off if we'd have run the course we were supposed to.

WH: I asked Karl Meltzer the following question and I'd like to ask it of you, too. This year we've seen Salomon Running field a team that has absolutely dominated in major US races and internationally, as well. Kilian Jornet of Spain won Western States. Julien Chorier of France won Hardrock. Ryan Sandes of South Africa won Leadville. And recently Kilian yet again won Mont Blanc. In each race, Team Salomon was there in full force for highly coordinated logistical, crew and pacing support--a level of organization we might expect to see in the Tour de France, not ultrarunning. Is the Salomon model the wave of the future in competitive ultrarunning? And how can US elites, who don't (yet) get such support, funding and logistical organization, compete against the Salomon machine?

NC: I think the whole Salomon thing is a bit overplayed. They have a lot of talented athletes on their books and they are spending a lot of money on them relative to any other company right now. Quite simply, they offer the most attractive package in the business which makes recruiting the best runners (and lots of them) relatively easy. Kilian is in a class of his own right now and would be the odds on favorite at any 100 mile race he enters, but the other guys you mention are no more talented than the top guys over here. Whether or not other companies are interested in replicating this model is hard to say. The North Face (another very well endowed company) seems to be employing a strategy more focused on sponsoring high profile races than in promoting their athletes, while other companies probably don't have the kind of budget in the trail space that Salomon - a trail-focused and market-leading company has. New Balance could certainly compete if they chose to, but they appear to be more focused on a few individuals rather than creating a team vibe. Montrail would probably be the closest model in the United States. They sponsor a lot of good athletes, and have a couple of world-class runners on their books, but they don't have a guy like Greg Vollet at the helm orchestrating things and making sure that runners are getting to big races primed and ready to win. It seems a lot more hands off over there, which is cool. Smaller companies like Sportiva, Inov8 and Pearl Izumi just don't have the budgets that Salomon does when it comes to trail running, so it would be unrealistic to expect those companies to build a program as large, coordinated and focused as the Salomon effort.

WH: Tell me a little about the Fort Collins trail running scene and places you like to run.

NC: We have a very strong and supportive trail running community here in Fort Collins. The group is very active with two regularly scheduled runs a week that typically see a turnout of between 20 and 40 runners, in addition to tons of impromptu runs and social gatherings. We also host a bunch of other fun events too, including the 24 Hours of Towers, Chubby Cheeks Fat Ass (50K), March Mileage Madness, and the Vertical Beer Mile. Group trips to local races and destinations are also popular. A core group of seven or eight people have been instrumental in creating this atmosphere over the last couple of years and from there a strong community has grown. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.

I do the balance of my running in Horsetooth Mountain Park which is a half mile from my house. Horsetooth is a county park, but it also affords access to Lory State Park. Between the two systems I have miles upon miles of primo mountainous single-track right out my front door. Rocky Mountain National Park is a 45-minute drive and I love to get up there at this time of year for some high-peak action, and then for things in between there are many, many 8-11K peaks within a 30-minute drive. I'm really quite spoiled for choice when it comes to trail access and running partners.

WH: In your judgment, what is the #1 mistake ultrarunners make in their training and racing?

NC: Tough question. Sometimes I tell people that they don't set lofty enough goals, but then I also see a lot of people over-estimating what they are capable of for their current conditioning. As runners, we need to have an organic sense of our abilities and fitness levels and I think a lot of runners over analyze, which is partly a function of all the gadgets that are currently on the market. Running is a very simple sport that has become overly complicated. If you are training to run 100 miles then you need to run a bunch of miles in training. If your focus is a mountainous trail race, then you need to get on hilly trail as much as possible; by contrast, if you are getting ready for a road ultra, then of course your training is going to look a lot more like a marathon training plan might. It's not rocket science. I also think a lot of ultrarunners underestimate the importance of top-end speed. I've run for miles at a time in a race like Western States at low to sub six-minute pace. That has to feel comfortable otherwise you're just digging yourself a grave, and in order for that to feel comfortable, it has to be trained. Mile repeats and longer at 10k-13.1 pace work well for that.

WH: One last question: Is there an ultrarunner out there who you admire the most and, if so, why?

NC: I have admiration for so many people in our sport, which is part of the reason I find it to be such an enjoyable community. It would be hard for me to pick out one particular individual.

WH: Nick, thanks again for your time!

If you liked this interview, you might also like my recent interview with Karl Meltzer!

All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced or reprinted without the express written consent of Wyatt Hornsby.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

After the Big Race...A Bunch of Blah, Blah, Blah

Well, I think I'm mostly recovered from the Leadville 100. The race was only three and a half week ago and I'm feeling generally pretty good. My right knee, which was bothering me after the race, is now in great shape. What I'm basically dealing with now is moderate muscle fatigue and some dull achiness that comes and goes. It seems like everyday I'm feeling better. Last week I ran 61 miles mostly on dirt roads.

Lots of folks may read this and say, "Dude, you just ran 100 miles three weeks ago! Take some time off!" Why? I feel good. I think the key to excelling in long-distance running and especially ultramarathoning is consistency. I don't mean consistency over a period of several weeks or even months. I mean consistency over the years. Extreme endurance--the kind that takes you over 100 miles on treacherous mountain trails (or really any trails)--takes years to develop. This doesn't mean you have to run high mileage all year. It just means you need to run and be consistent in what you're doing. If you're tired, back off and/or cross-train. If you're injured, take some time off. But when you're injury-free and feeling good, run! So, with that said, I'll remain in the 60ish miles per week range for the next few weeks as I continue to recover and then amp it up in October to get ready for whatever big race I'll be doing to cap off the year.

Sorry, got off track. Back to my post-Leadville 100 state. Mentally, I'm in good shape. Lots of folks do their big race and then flame out for a while. Not me. I'm usually able to stay focused. Still, right now I'm fighting the "blahs" because I don't know what's next on my calendar. I'm running a little 5K cross-country race this Sunday and I'm kind of excited about it, but what keeps me motivated is that next big race on the calendar, and right now there isn't one!

I kind of wish I could enter the Bear 100 (September 23-24), a very challenging mountain race in Utah and Idaho, but I have a massive scheduling conflict that weekend. So no Bear for me. I was really into the thought of going 24 hours at the Across the Years race in Phoenix over the New Year's holiday. I want to once again gun for 140 miles! Unfortunately, with my son's school closed that week and my wife scheduled to work, Across the Years ain't gonna happen.

So as of now I don't know if I'll do another big race in 2011. Races I'm considering are the Moab Trail Marathon and the Sacramento or Vegas marathons. The baseline fitness for Sacramento and Vegas is there; I just need to work on speed to get myself back into sub-3 shape. We'll see.

I've been thinking about 2012. I want to really challenge myself. I'm chewing on the idea of 2-3 100-milers. These would include Western States, Leadville, and Bear. Western States is doubtful because of the slim lottery odds, so if I don't get into Western I might look at Bighorn or going back to Ohio for the Mohican 100 in June but only if they change the course back to the way it was. I think I could win Mohican again if the course went back to the 2008 or 2009 version. I'm not interested in the current sufferfest.


I want to say a few words about my Leadville 100 coach, Karl Meltzer, who I interviewed a few weeks ago. Last weekend Karl finished third overall at the Wasatch Front 100, which he's won six times. Wasatch throws 54,000 feet of combined elevation change at you, so it's what you would call a serious mountain race that is probably second only to Hardrock in difficulty. What makes Karl's strong finish so remarkable is that he's been fighting a bulging disk in his back for the better part of the summer and came down with the stomach flu only two days before the race. Amazing! For gutting it out, Karl is more than worthy of the Get 'Er Done Award!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2011 Leadville 100 Lessons Learned and Post-Race Thoughts

As is the case with all of the 100-milers I've raced over the years ("only" six, including a 24-hour race), I've done a lot of soul-searching in the past few weeks as I've thought all about Leadville.

All of the 100s I've done have been special in their own unique way and inspired me to search my soul. Burning River in 2007 was my first 100 and I fared much better than I thought I would going into the race (6th overall). Your first 100 is an experience you will never, ever forget. Mohican in 2008 was a near-miss in terms of a win, leaving me very disappointed (and very injured). I returned to Mohican in 2009 and finally got the win--the high point of my life on the trails. The USA 24-hour national championship in 2009 (hosted by the North Coast 24-Hour Race) was an incredibly unique experience as I ran 131 miles on a .9-mile concrete loop path along the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland. Leadville in 2010, my first big race since we moved to Colorado a few months earlier, was a humbling experience to say the least, but that's the way many first Leadville 100s go!

So what's the story with Leadville in 2011? I'm really proud of my 29th-place finish and 22:35. My time improved by 2 hours and 12 minutes over 2010, and I jumped up 63 places. To earn my second El Plato Grande belt buckle, with the help of my family who did an amazing job of crewing me throughout the entire race, is incredibly special. Many runners never earn that buckle even as they put their heart and soul into the race. In fact, for the 2011 race, only 92 of the 351 finishers (620 starters) earned the big buckle. So, in many respects, I couldn't be happier with my finish. At the same time, I feel so certain that I left at least an hour on the course and made some mistakes that, frankly, make me sick to think about.

Here are some categorized lessons learned from the 2011 Leadville Trail 100 that will hopefully mean an even better result in 2012:

Crew Bags
I had crew bags for things like warm clothes, extra shorts and shirts, rain gear, socks, hats, certain shoes in certain situations, etc. At each aid station, my crew would pull out what I needed--or often what they thought I needed. I didn't create specific bags for each aid station. Big mistake. Due to high traffic, vehicles are often far from where crews access you as the runner, making it difficult for your crew to have what you need when they're pulling contents from a bunch of different bags in a car parked several hundred feet from the actual aid station. For 2012, I'm going to create specially packed bags for each aid station, making it easier for my crew to assist me.

Hope Pass Shoes
My plan was to run Hope Pass in trail shoes but I simply forgot to change into my Salomon Crossmaxes at Twin Lakes outbound. So I had to run into Winfield via Hope Pass (6,000 feet of total elevation change over those 10.5 miles) in road shoes that freaking killed my feet (no lateral support) on the long descent down Hope Pass. This easily robbed me of at least 20 minutes when you consider the longer-than-normal stop I had in Winfield to get my feet back in decent shape.

I carried a Nathan-brand waist pack that held two bottles. Mistake. It weighed way too much and was quite bulky. In several sections, I had to dump fluids to decrease the weight of my pack. For 2012, I think I'm going to carry handhelds or a small hydration pack filled with Perpetuem. I really like the new Salomon hydration packs and may get one.

For the 2011 race, my fluids were water, Gatorade and Perpetuem, along with Hammer gels and Saltsticks. This was my first race fueled by Perpetuem, which I started using after 40 miles. The stuff works very well and is good fuel for high-altitude races even though it contains some fat, which can cause GI problems at 10,000+ feet. I plan to stick with Perpetuem.

My inability to stay awake in the final 13.5 miles was made much worse by the fact that I didn't take in enough caffeine late in the race. This is without a doubt my #1 regret. For 2012, caffeine has got to be a big part of my strategy from Pipeline inbound (~73 miles) to the finish. I could kick myself for not downing a 5-Hour Energy or two in the last quarter of the race--rookie mistake that a veteran like me should NEVER make. Damnit!

Trekking Poles
I noticed way more runners with poles this year than last year. I'll admit that as I was going up Hope Pass on both sides, I was kind of missing my poles. I may bring them back in 2012 provided I develop a good rhythm with them in training.

I logged about 80-95 miles a week, with a tempo run and two longish efforts every week, getting ready for the 2011 Leadville 100. This was probably sufficient, but part of me wonders if it was enough given my lack of strength in the final 13.5 miles. For 2012, I'm probably going to keep my weekly mileage to 80-95 miles and increase my time on the trails, focusing more on time on my feet and less on mileage alone. Tempo runs will continue to be a part of the mix.

Trail Running
Working full-time and having a busy wife and little boy, it's tough to get to the mountains to train on the trails. But I was able to get in some excellent training runs at places like Mount Falcon, Deer Creek Canyon, Mount Herman, Elk Meadow Open Space, etc., along with some nice high-altitude races like the Leadville Marathon, Mount Evans Ascent, and Jemez 50-miler in New Mexico. For 2012, I'm going to train more at 10,000+ feet and will make it a priority to do a few time-trial runs on Hope Pass. If I'm ever to break 20 hours at Leadville, I have to get my Twin Lakes outbound to Twin Lakes inbound time down to around 5:40. For this year's race, my time for that section, which has 12,000 feet of total elevation change, was about 6:07--pathetic. Getting in some solid trail work for the 2012 race will be easier than it was this year. Anne no longer works Saturday mornings, so I'll be able to get to the trails on Saturdays and Sundays and also once during the work week. Becoming more comfortable running down steep, rocky trails at high altitude is a huge priority.

One final thought on training. I have got to improve my hiking! For 2012, in lieu of a second run in the same day, I may do a 30-45-minute fast walk with my trekking poles. We have some trails behind our house that might be perfect for this. I could also incorporate some hiking into my long runs on mountain trails.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Interview with Karl Meltzer

Note to reader: I've long-wanted to feature interviews with high-profile ultrarunners on my blog. For this first interview, the choice of who to "talk" with was an easy one.

Karl Meltzer, also known as "Speedgoat," lives in Sandy, Utah and is probably the ultrarunner I admire the most. He has won a record 30 races of 100 miles and has 54 total wins, including wins at Hardrock (5 wins!), Wasatch Front (6 wins!), Bear (3 wins), San Diego (3 wins), Coyote Two Moon (2 wins), Bighorn (2 wins) and Massanutten (3 wins). He also holds the record for the most 100-mile wins in a single year (6 in 2006), earning him Ultrarunner of the Year. The 43-year-old has gone for speed records on both the Appalachian Trail and Pony Express Trail and is still going strong more than 15 years into his brilliant career. His sponsors include Red Bull, Hoka One One,, Dry Max Socks, UltrAspire, 1st Endurance, Black Diamond and Ryders Eyewear.

Karl was my coach throughout my 2011 Leadville 100 training and coaches other athletes, as well. Following Karl's advice, I took 2 hours and 12 minutes off of my 2010 Leadville time--going from 24:47 and 92nd overall in 2010 down to 22:35 and 29th overall this year...all while running a little less mileage in training and amping up the quality. I still have a ways to go in achieving my goal of a sub-20 at Leadville, but it's fair to say 2011 was a major improvement and I owe a lot to Karl.

I hope you enjoy the interview!

WH: Karl, thanks for the taking some time to talk with me and share some insights with my readers. The reason I asked you to coach me for Leadville is that you have what I describe as "mojo." You have the mental game of a 100-miler down pat. My guess is that it's your mental edge and confidence that have led to those 30 victories at the 100-mile distance and propelled you forward during your grueling Appalachian Trail and Pony Express Trail adventures. Have you always had the mental game down and, if not, how did you develop it?

KM: To say I "developed" mojo is kinda funny. All my life, I've had the attitude that we never really know what's around the next corner, so why stress out about what "could happen," when we never really know? When I was younger, I may have stressed out a little bit before races, but I've learned over the years that it's just a waste of time thinking about it. Just go start and see what happens. Training-wise, it's easy to get out, so that part is not a big deal. The good mojo comes from just enjoying what I do, instead of feeling like I "have" to perform. I just run the races and see what happens at this point. The mental power has really improved after I ran a few 100s in a row, starting in about 2005 when I would stack a few together and see what would happen. Although this is not the way to run a PR, it's a great way to get strong mentally because I have no pressure. I would always say to myself, "It'll be over in 15 hours, so why bother worrying about it? I'll be sitting in my chair with a brew before I know it." Also, after the Appalachian Trail run in 2008, 100 miles became an easy distance to complete. Not easy to win, but easy to complete. The perspective on how far it is really changes after running 40-55 miles a day. Makes it easy.

WH: You've said before that you don't run the miles that some of the other elite guys do. But yet you've won a ton of big races over the years--from Hardrock, Bear and Wasatch to San Diego, Massanutten and others. What's an average week of training like when you're gunning for a big race like Hardrock or Wasatch?

KM: On typical weeks when I'm not recovering from something else, I run about 70 per week, then taper about a week and a half, really listening to how tired my body is. The taper week varies on distance and difficulty. One of the key things with my training is that EVERY run is in the mountains and very hilly. Usually up for an hour or more, then all down. Or 1500'-3000' climbs all the time. No treadmills, no real "structured" speedwork. The speed comes from practicing on technical trails on technique on how to go faster and how to deal with rocks. In the Wasatch Mountains it is very rocky, so technical running is everywhere. Get good at that, and run races that are technical and I do well. If it's too smooth, I can still do alright, but I thrive on terrain I run all the time, like Hardrock, Wasatch, and Massanutten. These are all super rocky, so they're good for me. I don't necessarily seek out competitive races like I should; I seek out races I know will be tough and that I'll enjoy. It makes no sense to me to do what others think I should do. I am me, and will run what I like to run....for I may die tomorrow. :-)

WH: The history of ultrarunning is littered with flash-in-the-pan stories--guys who exploded onto the scene and then disappeared after a few amazing races. Guys like you and Eric Clifton, who win for a long time, are rare. What's been the secret to your longevity?

KM: As you know I don't really run a ton of miles, which keeps my body happy in terms of injuries. When I feel something is wrong and can't figure it out on my own, I go to my doc and get a real diagnosis. I'm not a big fan of Internet diagnosis, because although the info is great, we still can't diagnose something without a doc's examination. I don't do educated guesses on injuries or conditions. Looking back at my running logs, over the past 15 years, my miles have increased super slowly, so my "build up" phase has been over years, not months, making me less susceptible to injury.

I think a lot of "flash in the pan" guys just find another thing to do and get sucked into a "career." I have always wanted running to be my way to make money to survive. I'm not a guy who cares much about becoming a millionaire. Ultrarunning will never pay all the bills by itself, no matter who you are (maybe Kilian). What I do is work to live, not live to work. Coaching has made my life a lot better than it was financially, but I'm still not gonna get rich. I don't care as long as I can survive. OK, I got a little off subject there.

WH: One of things I'm starting to think about with my ultra training is incorporating some fast walking into the mix--just a little, though. Anton Krupicka recently talked about this on his blog. Bottom line is that in an ultra most of us are going to hike a few sections, especially the big climbs, so it seems to make sense to me that fast walking should be part of training. Does your training include any hiking?

KM: Absolutely! I hike A LOT, and practice walking 4mph uphills that range in the 600'-700' per mile grade. I can fly uphill hiking fast. It keeps the heart rate a little lower and saves the energy level for later. No one runs every step (unless it's Rocky Raccoon), so training to hike fast is very important. It's not about speed, it's about perseverance and being stubborn for a long time to succeed at 100s. At big races, you'll see me walking early in some sections that are completely runnable, but I'll jog by you later cuz' you ran it all early. It happens a lot. Once in a while when it gets steep, hike fast and work on being efficient with the stride. It's hard to walk faster than 4mph and be comfortable, but practice it enough and you'll walk by some people when they are running.

WH: In your judgment and from your years of coaching and racing, what’s the #1 mistake ultrarunners make in their training and/or racing?

KM: When folks run their first 100 in particular, goals on time and how fast they plan to run it can sometimes be a bit lofty. Goal #1 should always be to finish the damn thing. :-) 100 miles is a lot tougher than 50. A lot of people don't understand that until the first try at 100. Some will do great, but it's always hard to tell just from training. It's so mental after mile 60. People go out too fast, but that's the obvious answer. Training-wise, I don't like to see folks go do a 10 hour run every weekend, then do real small, easy stuff all week because they are tired from the 10-hour effort. I would rather see runners be more consistent with miles, and throw in some faster running. Not necessarily in a circle, but more on the trails and terrain they will race on. I feel it's best to run courses that runners feel is their strength for their best success.

WH: Generally speaking, what’s your race nutrition strategy?

KM: A lot of gel, particularly EFS drink and some random gels, along with Red Bull, Nuun at aid stations (never carry it cuz it's messy), Saltstick electrolyte capsules, and chicken bouillon if I have crew. Also, some ibuprofen if needed, but never a lot or more than 400mg every 4 hours. Use the 100mg per hour rule. That's it, pretty simple. I haven't had a stomach issue since 2004 at Hardrock, and that was short-lived.

WH: This year (and really toward the end of last year with the North Face 50-miler in San Fran) we've seen Salomon Running field a team that has absolutely dominated in major US races and internationally, as well. Kilian Jornet of Spain won Western States. Julien Chorier of France won Hardrock. Ryan Sandes of South Africa won Leadville. And recently Kilian yet again won Mont Blanc, where we saw a number of high-profile DNFs from Americans. In each race, Team Salomon was there in full force for highly coordinated logistical, crew and pacing support--a level of organization we might expect to see in the Tour de France, not ultrarunning. Is the Salomon model the wave of the future in competitive ultrarunning? And how can US elites, who don't get such support, funding and logistical organization (yet), compete against the Salomon machine?

KM: Salomon simply hunted down the best mountain runners in Europe, made a team, put together a decent budget and spread the love. The fact that they beat all the Americans doesn't mean much really. At Western States, Kilian should have won; he is the best on the planet right now. The fact that he's Spanish makes no difference, only that he could get in WS easily the first time cuz' he's not from the US. Now he's set. At Hardrock, I was not healthy, Nick (Clark) was tired (from Western States), and Dakota (Jones) is a rookie. Joe (Grant) is also a rookie. Either way, Chorier didn't break my record, and even with the added two miles still would not have. So they didn't really come over here and break records; they just won and were focused on one thing. We Americans want more and more, just like the fat guy at McDonalds getting the supersize. Europeans want less at once, but a better result. Different culture. Why didn't Chorier run UTMB? They probably said he was tired. I wouldn't even think twice about running UTMB if I were Chorier; he should have been long recovered. It would have been interesting to see what he would have done at UTMB. Sandes' time at Leadville was an hour behind (Matt) Carpenter's (record setting time in 2005). An hour! Salomon certainly has made a statement, no doubt. But it doesn't necessarily mean their shoes are the best. :-)

Companies have to pay athletes enough money to be athletes. That's the bottom line. If an athlete gets paid enough to pay his mortgage, buy his food, and save a little more money, then said athlete can just train. We Americans all have jobs and careers, and some have families to provide for. We need to make money. I can't personally say if Kilian, Julien, Iker, Miguel and Ryan have regular jobs; maybe they do. You would have to ask them.

WH: Last question. You're the founder and race director of the Speedgoat 50K, considered the toughest 50K in the nation (it's on my to-do list). You're also coaching and running competitively and in recent years have gone for the speed records on the Appalachian Trail and Pony Express Trail (completing both). What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? And when can we expect a book :)?

KM: In 10 years, I hope to be playing more golf, working less, and maybe writing a book. Who knows? Right now I live for the moment and don't worry about what comes next. As long as I can survive today, I'm fine. I would also like to hike the AT with my wife when she turns 50. I also plan on returning to the AT in due time to try and break the record again, but I'm not sure when. It depends on funds, support, crap like that. In 10 years, I can guarantee I'll still be running. If I'm not, I'll be dead. I also hope to someday sell the Speedgoat 50K and make my millions. :-)

WH: I lied. One more question. For those interested in your coaching services, is the way for folks to contact you?

KM: Yeah, is for my coaching service.

WH: Thanks again Karl!

KM: My pleasure!

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