Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 in Review, the Future of Badwater and a Plug for Zack Bitter

Wow, 2013 is coming to a close. The years fly by! All in all, this was a good running year for me. Personally, it started out horribly; I was in an awful job situation, stressed out and unhappy and then half of my department (including me) got laid off—a blessing in disguise. Fortunately, 2013 is ending on a great note; I started a new job in August and I’m happy with my work for the first time in a few years. Over the summer, as I was out of work, I ran a ton, putting in some big miles on the trail pretty much every day as I prepared for the Leadville 100. The average month saw 60,000 feet of vertical and 400+ miles. As much as I love to put in that kind of volume because I am, after all, a volume junkie (sometimes to my own detriment), I know that it won’t happen again so long as I’m working full-time and fulfilling my responsibilities as a husband and dad. But that’s OK. In many respects, the summer allowed me to get some things “out of my system” and come to grips with who I really am.

It’s hard to describe with words, but I’ve changed as a runner over the past few months. It used to be that I liked the attention I got as a runner. The “oohs” and “ahs” of what I did with my running kind of felt good deep down even though I've always tried to act humble. But recently it’s gotten uncomfortable. I’ve reached the point in my running life where I don’t need to really “feel good” about it, and I don’t need external validation or adulation. It’s not that I ever needed validation—I didn’t. But on a certain level I enjoyed it when people complimented me on my endurance, and I do believe people who run ultras have a real feather in their cap in terms of workplace advancement (running shows discipline, grit, determination, goal-setting and commitment—qualities that most employers like). Nowadays, with over a decade of “serious” distance running under my belt, I find myself more and more uncomfortable with people knowing what I do in my spare time. Running is part and parcel of my personality and I’m finding that it’s nice to be known for something other than the miles I log. I run not only because I enjoy it, but also because I need it and it’s just what I’m supposed to do. Does that even make sense?

Back to 2013…. It started off on a shaky note when I ran a 3:04 at the Rock ‘n Roll Arizona Marathon in January. That whole experience in Phoenix revealed a great deal to me. Hitting the wall big time at mile 21, I learned that I need volume. For my Phoenix training, I was hitting about 65 miles a week, but logging a lot of really good quality. Though certainly the heat played a role (it was over 70 degrees and sunny when I finished), clearly I’m a runner who needs volume and not just quality. So, for my next big go at the marathon, my mileage will be up in the 80s and the volume will be there, too.

Incidentally, a lot of people assume I would find the marathon easy. You may hear the same thing in your own circles. I tell people that it’s not the distance that’s necessarily hard (though I wouldn’t call 26.2 miles easy); it’s running those 26.2 miles at a good clip that’s freaking hard as all get out. I truly believe that the road marathon is the hardest distance of all, with the possible exception of 50 miles and 100K on the road; you have to perfectly pace the event. Every second counts. Whereas in an ultra you can stop to pee or whatever and not really lose ground, in a road marathon if you stop for anything you’re losing precious time and that PR becomes harder to achieve.

Anyway, after Phoenix, I hit the weights and ran at MAF for three months. Those three months helped me recover and establish a solid aerobic base and the strength to hold up through the racing season. I credit MAF and weights for my being healthy and injury-free (save a sprained ankle) throughout the year.

Then in April I ran the Cheyenne Mountain 50K, really struggling throughout the race but still managing a respectable finish. I had no trail strength and bonked big-time 20 miles in. I managed to pull things together, after getting a few Hammer gels in me, and finish decently strong. That whole experience revealed to me that there’s a huge different between road legs and trail legs. Going into Cheyenne, I had the former, but not the latter (yet). And so I hit the trail in the weeks and months to come trying to get my trail legs back.

A week after Cheyenne, I suddenly found myself out of work and with loads of free time. So, when I wasn’t applying for jobs, networking and hanging out with my son, I was running trails every day. I ran at places like the Barr Trail (Pikes Peak), Grays and Torreys Peaks, Elk Meadow Open Space, both Green Mountains (the one in Boulder and the one in Lakewood), Roxborough State Park, and of course Mount Falcon and Deer Creek Canyon. I even managed to set a new PR on the Incline with a 26:04. It sure felt good tallying up the numbers at the end of each week and seeing huge vertical!

It all paid off big time at my next race, the Leadville Marathon in late June. I ran a 4:19, despite no real taper, being sick with strep throat and losing 3-4 minutes after severely spraining my ankle on the descent into town at the end of the race. My time was a full 20 minutes better than my PR, signaling that I was getting in really good shape for the Leadville 100 thanks to all the MAF, weights and trail running. The problem was that I could barely walk on my mangled ankle. After taking it easy for a few days and getting the swelling down, I got back on the trails and was pretty compromised for a few weeks as my ankle improved. Prior to the sprain, I was running hard down rocky trails and my confidence was sky high. When I sprained it coming into town, I was hammering it down the trail. In retrospect, that ankle sprain really put a dent in things, even as I continued to log huge miles and vertical going into the Leadville 100. I just wasn’t the same after the sprain.

And then there was the 100 in mid-August. The race can be summed up quite easily. The first 65 miles were horrendous. I puked 15 times on Hope Pass on the return trip and just ran flat. I think the 2012 DNF was really playing with my mind. But then not far out of Twin Lakes inbound I got a burst of energy that carried me to the finish in 22:40. The last 35 miles were amazing—I ran almost every step, including the Powerline climb, and passed dozens of runners. Coming into each station, I was howling like Billy Idol and totally pumped up. I credit my wife for giving me a huge 20-ounce Coke at Pipeline—it really got the juices flowing. I feel like in many ways I made a mental breakthrough at Leadville, and I can honestly say I enjoyed the entire experience. While the physical training is critical, so much of successful 100-mile racing at altitude is about the mental game.

The year ended with really solid efforts at the 5K and half marathon distances.

I’m now ready to close the book on 2013 and think about 2014. The year will once again revolve around the Leadville 100. Though I expect I won’t be able to get in the trail miles I did this summer due to limited vacation time and work, I do think I’ll be mentally stronger and the overall volume will be there. I’ll certainly be able to log some quality miles on the trails, but not on a daily basis. I’ll make do with what I have and just enjoy the experience.

***

In closing, I want to make a plug for Zack Bitter’s recent100-mile time at Desert Rats. To run under 12 hours for 100 miles and, in the process, set a new American record and go on to beat Yiannis Kouros’ 12-hour world record is just crazy. Though I’m not big on awards, I really hope Zack wins Ultra Performance of the Year honors—because he deserves it. And I say that knowing that what Tim Olson did at Western States this year was almost just as crazy, as he held off two monsters in Rob Krar and Mike Morton.

***

A final note: As many of us already know, the Badwater Ultramarathon and other Death Valley races face an uncertain future due to the new superintendent of Death Valley National Park instituting a "safety evaluation" that means no permits for events, even long-standing events like Badwater, will be granted. No good reason for the review was provided, and no prior notification to the Badwater organizers was made--which is patently absurd. Such a situation is totally unacceptable, given Badwater’s track record of good organization and runner and crew safety, and it reveals the very frightening nature of what government is becoming. Then there's this disturbing perspective on what's really going on--high radiation levels in Death Valley.

Whatever the case, if runners want to race 135 miles across the desert in the dead of summer, then so be it (unless, of course, there are grave safety issues stemming from deadly radiation, which at this point is pure speculation). My hope is that an organization to challenge this edict by some appointed bureaucrat will quickly emerge--or at the very least we'll get some answers--but sadly the clock is ticking on Badwater and other events. All of us in the ultrarunning world should be alarmed by this situation, because it could set a dangerous precedent for other national parks in which races are held.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Passion, Weights and 2014

If you follow the sunrise/sunset calendar, then you know today the sunsets in Denver start to happen later and later. The sun sets today at 4:35. We spend the next few days at 4:35, and then on Saturday the sun sets at 4:36. Hooray! Our sunrises start to happen later in mid-January. So, while we're now at the point of later sunsets, we're not quite at the point of longer days. Soon enough!

***

Several weeks have passed since my last post. It’s funny (to me, at least) that at various times I just don’t have much to say on this blog. Then there are other times when I’m posting updates a few times a week, or when I’m fired up as with the recent brouhaha over Leadville. I’ve found the same thing to be true with my use of other social media vehicles, particularly Facebook. Sometimes I think Facebook is great (like on Sunday when I participated in a great discussion about the recent Hardrock lottery results), and then other times I think it’s a total waste of time. I think in this world too many people are sharing opinions at once. We need more quiet reflection. That said, I’m occasionally guilty of being a social media loudmouth and so I know I contribute to the noise at times, unlike JT and Woody who cut to the issue with far fewer words :-).

I’m maybe a bit overly passionate at times because I love the sport of ultrarunning. The late, great Jim Valvano once said every day you should laugh, think and have your emotions moved to tears. Whatever ultramarathon distance I’m running--from 50K to 100 miles--all three of those things (laughter, emotion and thought) happen—more than what would ordinarily happen in a road race. Ultrarunning invokes deep passions within me. I can’t be dispassionate about anything related to ultrarunning and/or Leadville because of my love for the act of running long distances.

***

On the running front, I’ve been hard at work with my weight training and have been managing to run 60 miles a week, which for me is fairly low-effort. I gave up on CrossFit as I didn’t have time for it and I began to question whether it was a good idea for a long-distance runner to do those types of movements in rapid succession with the clock ticking. But I digress…. My weight training has evolved quite a bit since last year. This winter, my focus is on heavier weight and fewer reps. I always do my weights on Sunday afternoon, usually 5-6 hours after my long run. For me, Sundays are best as I usually take Mondays off to recover during the winter (during the spring and summer I run seven days a week). I don’t like to do weights on recovery days or the day before my long run (usually Sunday), and I infrequently have time to get to the weight room during the work week. So Sunday afternoon it is. My typical routine is:
  • Short run to the weight room to warm up
  • 4x6-8 leg extensions, working each leg individually and increasing weight with each set
  • 4x6-8 leg curls
  • Hip stuff – not sure what the name for what I do is, but it’s great—I have a belt around my ankle and move my leg out from my body (to the side), lifting weight in the process via a pully machine.
  • 5x3-8 squats
  • Short run back home 
In between sets, I do lots of different things, such as CrossFit-style push-ups, CrossFit-style sit-ups, back extensions and planks. I keep moving, though I have to admit I usually take it easy between squat sets. I love to end my workout with Samson stretches, which really work the hamstrings and hips.

Over the winter, I’m going to continue to take most Mondays off, so that I can recover from Sunday’s work. Tuesdays are usually pretty rough for me as I’m still a bit sore, but by Wednesday I’m a lot better. I’m definitely feeling the benefits of my weight training. On Sunday I squatted 175 pounds three times. That means I’m now squatting more than my body weight. I’d like to work up to 225 pounds by early spring, when I transition away from weights (though I do core work and push-ups throughout the racing season) and start to increase my running volume.

Weights may not work for all runners, but for me I really think they help prevent injuries. The good health I’ve enjoyed this year didn’t come by accident—I think weight training last winter paid off big time. I also think more running at MAF has helped.

***

With the Western States lottery not going my way, my 2014 racing schedule is starting to take shape. I’ve already registered for the Mount Evans Ascent. I have two scenarios I’m considering:

Scenario 1
Spring half-marathon (not sure which one)
Colorado Marathon – go for new marathon PR
Mount Evans Ascent
Leadville Trail Marathon
Leadville 100

Scenario 2
Spring half-marathon (not sure which one)
Cheyenne Mountain 50K
Jemez 50-Mile
Mount Evans Ascent
Leadville Trail Marathon
Leadville 100

I’m also eying the San Juan Solstice 50-Mile, which would sub in for Jemez under scenario 2. Jemez and San Juan are both pretty hardcore, though I haven’t run the post-fire Jemez course. I last ran Jemez in 2011, when the course consisted of a series of gnarly climbs that are really beyond the pale in terms of steepness and technical stuff like downed trees, huge boulders, etc. Jemez , which takes place in Los Alamos, New Mexico, will make you cry—it is honestly the hardest course, mile for mile, I’ve ever run (check out Lucho's Jemez race report from 2010). I don’t know what the post-fire course is like, but hopefully it’s still gnarly. I’m sure San Juan will also make you cry, but the elevation involved in San Juan is going to be more Leadville-like. Plus, San Juan is in mid-June—perfect timing for Leadville training.

Decisions, decisions….

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Potential 2014 Schedule - Dream and Probable Scenarios

Here are two scenarios for my 2014 racing schedule--one is the "dream" scenario and the other is the probable scenario.

Dream scenario
Cheyenne Mountain 50K - April
Western States Endurance Run (100 miles) - June
Leadville 100-Mile Run - August
Late fall marathon?

Probable scenario
Colorado Marathon - May (PR attempt)
Mount Evans Ascent - June (not able to do it in 2013 due to family scheduling issues and really missed it)
Leadville Marathon - June
Leadville 100-Mile Run - August
Across the Years 24-Hour - December

Western States is the big X factor. If I get in--which I know is a snowball's chance in hell--then that changes everything. I would love to do a Western States/Leadville double this summer. Wow, that would be epic! I'll find out in a few weeks about Western. Again, I know the odds are stacked against me due to sheer numbers. But that's OK; in time, I know my Western States number will get pulled. In the meantime, every Leadville 100 finish gets me a step closer to that thousand-mile buckle.

Beyond of course returning to Leadville in 2014, I really want to give the 24-hour another go. I did a 24-hour in 2009 and finished with 131 miles (never to be the same again). I really feel like I should have logged 135-140 miles that day--I made some first-timer mistakes like overhydrating (easy to do when you're running a 0.9-mile loop and there's aid every time around). I'd love to go down to Arizona late next year and give Across the Years a go. I've heard it's an awesome race and the course is apparently favorable for big miles.

Friday, November 1, 2013

In Defense of Leadville (Yet Again) and Western States

I said I wouldn't weigh in on this issue but I've literally received 27 e-mails/Facebook messages from people asking me to offer my thoughts. So here goes....
  
“A note about the 2013 Leadville 100: The Leadville 100 includes many of the features that are important for a HR qualifier: high altitude, long climbs, potential for mountain weather, and more. However, the 2013 Leadville 100 ignored other traits of importance to the HR: environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport. Because of timing, the 2013 LT100 will still be accepted as a qualifier for the 2014 HR. LT100 finishes will not be accepted as qualifiers for the 2015 HRH and beyond.”

That’s a recent statement from the Hardrock 100, which earlier this week revised its qualifications standards to exclude the Leadville100, the Western States 100 and other big races from its list of feeders.

The purpose of this post isn’t to whine about the decision. Let me state up front that Hardrock is a great race and it’s well-run and the people who participate year in and year out are, from what I know, representative of the best in this sport. It had always been my dream to one day line up for Hardrock—I see that course as an epic challenge. But at this point, my dream of doing Hardrock is on hold. I'll explain more below.

Let me also state that Hardrock, in the statement above, shined a light on some legitimate concerns stemming from this year’s Leadville race. Simply put, there were issues—mostly related to growing pains and the challenges you get with new ownership—and I’ve shared my concerns on this blog and via other means, including direct outreach to the race. To date, the Leadville organizers have been rather quiet, to say the least. So no one knows what’s happening on the inside and whether or not the 2014 running will involve some needed improvements. My inclination all along has been to give the organizers the benefit of the doubt, even amid the silence. Call me naïve but I think the organizers care about the race. They had a come-to-Jesus moment this past August and let’s hope they learn from it and make adjustments.

Sadly, there have been many people to lash out at the Leadville organizers, venting on Facebook, blogs, podcasts, etc. Some of this has been thoughtful criticism, but there’s also been plenty of slash-and-burn tactics and agendas at work. As a PR professional, I’m a bit perplexed as to why the Leadville organizers haven’t been out there talking. Being quiet during a PR crisis doesn’t work—you lose control of the issue and that’s what we’ve seen with continued attacks on the race and now this unprecedented power-play by another race (Hardrock). It's worth noting that, according to what I know, no one at Hardrock reached out to Leadville before the decision was public. To me, that's troubling.

It’s important to acknowledge that Western States and Leadville, along with Vermont and Old Dominion, are among the original 100s. Western States was first, and then along came Leadville. The sport of 100-mile racing came to be because one man had the courage and tenacity to go the full distance against horses back in 1974. The rest, as they say, is history—and what a glorious history it is. Western States has always been a Hardrock qualifier. In fact, there have been many to attempt the grueling Western States/Hardrock double—both races happening a few weeks apart. In that regard, there’s been a link between the two races—a link that Hardrock seems to want to break. I say all of that because it’s truly incredible to me that Hardrock has now scrubbed its qualifier list of the race that got it all started in the first place—a race that is no easy feat with its 18,000 feet of climbing and 21,000 feet of descending through red-hot canyons. Simply put, there would probably be no Hardrock if Gordy Ainsleigh had not completed what was considered a crazy, stupid, asinine, impossible 100-mile run in 1974. And there certainly never would have been a Leadville, either. God bless Gordy Ainsleigh. The man is a legend, and the race he founded occupies a special place in the sport’s pantheon—as in front and center. Western States deserves all the prestige it now has--and it's been a responsible steward of that prestige, its place in the sport, and the trust that runners put in its organizers every June. Western States is the gold standard. And so it's rather shocking (and saddening) to see another race's actions amount to undermining Western States' unique place in the sport.

Then you have Leadville. I’ll spare you a history lesson, but let me say this: the Leadville 100 was founded in 1982 to essentially save the town of Leadville from economic ruin. At the time, the town was within inches of death as a result of a mine closure. The skiing in Leadville isn't great so that wasn't an option for breathing new life into the town--but a 100-mile footrace might be! And so began the Leadville 100. While the town continues to struggle a bit, there is no doubt that the Leadville 100 and, to a larger extent, the Leadville Race Series have a significant economic impact. Leadville is a fairly isolated mountain town, so those who participate in the races, be it racers, crew members and families, usually stay in Leadville, where they spend lots of money. So it’s fair to say Ken Chlouber’s original vision for the race remains intact today. That said, there is certainly a love-hate relationship with the race series among town residents—and understandably so. Their small, quiet town is essentially invaded by endurance athletes every summer. But those athletes and their supporters spend lots of money in the process. So the town ultimately wins.

Having established all of that, I really want to focus on Hardrock’s decision to eliminate Leadville from its qualifier list. This decision was made on the grounds of a judgment against Leadville—that the 2013 race crossed the line in terms of “environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport.” No specific details were shared. That’s all the information we have.

Let’s talk about environmental responsibility. Every race has a carbon footprint, whether it’s cups at aid stations, crew vehicles, use of pristine mountain trails, or transportation to and from events. Hell, even the clothes we racers wear represent a carbon footprint. Pointing a finger of blame at a race for its environmental impact opens up a can of worms and is breathtakingly judgmental when the race pointing that finger has an environmental impact of its own (be that as it may, why does Leadville and not UTMB, with its 2,000+ racers, get blamed here?). That said, littering is an issue I really want Leadville to take on in the 2014 race. There is no excuse to purposely litter on a trail…or anywhere for that matter. Every morning on my runs I pick up garbage. I get it, folks. Littering pisses me off. Big time.

Now let’s address “support of the hosting community.” What does that mean? No seriously, what does that mean? Because with Leadville we’re talking about a race that brings an economic impact to a depressed mountain town that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. My "team" alone drops $2,000-$3,000 while we're there. During race weekend, every hotel and cabin is booked. Restaurants and shops are full. The Leadville Safeway is bombarded. Hell, even the hospital is busier than usual. You get the idea. Leadville brings the cash, baby, and I love being a part of that. And when you look at the Leadville Race Series as a whole, the economic impact is even higher. I’ll bet there’s not another ultra out there that has a larger economic impact that’s focused on one area than Leadville. That said, the organizers need to be more transparent about this issue. I would love to know the exact economic impact the races have.

On a related note, while I don’t know the terms of the sale to Lifetime Fitness back in 2010, I’ll bet that among them is a promise to bring lots of racers to Leadville every year. The more racers there are, the more dollars come to the community (and Lifetime?). If the field is reduced, the town suffers. It’s just that simple. So the relationship between the Leadville 100 and “hosting community” is pretty unique. And it’s also kind of untidy at times. As with almost anything in life, there are going to be conflicts now and then. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

I’m getting a tad bored so I’ll try to get through Leadville’s purported failure in “having a positive impact on the health of our sport” as quickly as possible. Simply put, I don’t get this accusation. How is having a race that attracts over a thousand runners, many of them newbies, not positive for the sport? I thought growth was good? I guess it’s not? And how is Leadville’s hugely awesome economic impact on its “hosting community” not a big plus for the sport? That economic impact shows what ultrarunning can do for communities. Yeah, I don’t get this one. Someone needs to explain it to me.

Bottom line: Removing Western States from the qualifier list was a huge slap in the face of the most hallowed race in the sport. We owe an eternal debt of gratitude to our sport’s founder, Gordy Ainsleigh, and to the race that got it all started and continues to set the standard. As for removing Leadville from the qualifier list, this I say: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Final point: Lots of people love to say Leadville is flat and not that hard. Really? The race is 100 miles between elevations of 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet, with about 17,000 feet of climbing, two rugged mountain crossings and very technical terrain the last 15 miles when most of us are running in the pitch-black dark. The weather is iffy, to say the least. This is no walk/jog in the park, folks. So to suggest Leadville is flat and not that hard is just absurd. Is Hardrock harder? I don’t think you can answer that question because the two races are totally different. Whereas Leadville is mostly runnable, Hardrock requires a lot of hiking. So it’s unfair to compare the two. But on the basis of the courses by themselves, yeah, Hardrock is in a league of its own. But Leadville will certainly help prepare you for it.

I do hope this decision by Hardrock is revisited and overturned. Hardrock is a great race and it’s captured my imagination for years. The folks who organize Hardrock clearly have built and continue to maintain a great race. My favorite cover of Ultrarunning magazine was of Kyle Skaggs in the process of breaking the Hardrock record—a record that still stands. I’m in awe of how tough that race is and of the people who do it year after year.

Sadly, until this decision by Hardrock is overturned, I’ll refrain from entering the lottery. Not that I'd be eligible anyway... And not that anyone cares.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CrossFit

It seems like at this time every year, with the racing season pretty much over (or maybe not?), I get in this super reflective mode and start challenging every assumption I've ever had. One assumption I've been questioning is this one:

To be a better runner, you need to run more.

With a pretty huge base of mileage accumulated over a ten-year period, I’m rethinking how I train and how I often chase after numbers, and challenging the wisdom of a program that involves very little outside of running. In 100-milers, invariably there comes a point when I experience muscle failures in places other than my legs—namely my back and core. In fact, sometimes my back goes tired on me before my legs. Because 100-milers tap almost every muscle, I’ve been thinking about the usefulness of better total body strength as a complement to putting in the miles to get ready for a big race. On Saturday, I got started with an excellent CrossFit instructor here in Parker and I plan to stick with him through the winter, doing 2-3 sessions a week. If Saturday is any indication of what’s to come, I think it’s fair to assume I’ll be making some good strength gains over the next few months--strength gains that I believe will make me a better ultrarunner and more well-rounded athlete.

With CrossFit likely to be a part of my winter program, I plan to hold my running mileage to about 50-55/week for the next few months, with lots of short-distance, aerobic speedwork thrown in there to build top end speed. For me, such mileage is super manageable and pretty low-impact and will allow me to realize gains from my CrossFit workouts.

I think many of us runners fall into the trap of just running, which ultimately can cause us to be rather one-dimensional athletes. It’s a trap I’ve allowed myself to fall in for years as I've chased after numbers--and this is mostly because I just love to run. Over time, our bodies become very efficient at running and this can mean other muscles and areas simply get neglected...to our own detriment (for example, many of us runners simply don’t engage our hips the way we should). Then we find ourselves in long ultramarathons dealing with potentially preventable muscle breakdown and imbalances in areas of the body other than just the legs. I can say this from personal experience: powerfully climbing Hope Pass in both directions requires a hell of a lot more than what running and altitude training will give you. What it requires (sheer strength from head to toe) is something I haven't yet fully developed. And so here I am experimenting with CrossFit. I have come to believe strength training, as a complement to running, can help us develop better total body conditioning that may just get us over mountains and to the finish line in better shape--and maintain better overall health. Or so my theory goes.

All that aside, when guys hit age 40, it’s a scientific fact that we start to lose muscle mass. Running may help slow that process, but it will do only so much. Resistance training has its place in helping guys preserve and develop their muscles—critical for us ultrarunners if we want to avoid injury. I did some limited weight training this past winter and I think it benefited me in huge ways this spring and summer--I've been injury-free in 2013! Think about it this way: If you’re losing muscle because of age, isn’t it fair to assume your bones and connective tissue will take a bigger beating? Resistance training can help protect us from such injuries. Or so my theory goes.

I used to think CrossFit was kind of dumb. But no longer do I hold that viewpoint. On Saturday, as I was squatting with just a bar (working on technique) and rowing 300 meters at a time and doing all of that with no rest in between four intensive rounds, it really hit me that this program can benefit ultrarunners if used properly. I view CrossFit as a way to be a better ultrarunner--to prepare me for the big miles that will come in 2014 as I prepare for my races (Western States? Leadville?). I have no plans to become a competitive CrossFit athlete; I'm a runner. CrossFit is there to help me build better strength and speed and protect myself from injury.

So over the next few months I’ll be sharing with you my experience with CrossFit. Many of us talk about trying new things but oftentimes we stick with the same old routine because change is scary. CrossFit is a new thing for me--an experiment over the winter--and I’m excited about where it may take me as a runner and--dare I say--athlete. And I’m equally excited to share my experiences with all of you.

For me, there is no greater desire than to continually improve and be the best I can be. Probably like you, I enjoy trying new approaches, new methods and new techniques. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don't.

In my next post, I'll share some thoughts I'm having about chasing numbers in training and the oftentimes contentious relationship between quality versus quantity.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Plan for Getting Stronger and Faster

Three days have passed since my last run and I don't really miss it (yet). After taking Monday and Tuesday completely off from everything, this morning I headed to the gym (jogged 0.3 miles to it, actually) and did some lower-body work along with push-ups and core work. The workout was:
  • Single-leg extensions - 4x12 reps (just to clarify, I did 4 sets for each leg)
  • Single-leg curls - 3x12 reps
  • Single hip abductor stuff - 3x12 reps (not sure how to describe it but I use a pulley from the ground and extend my legs outward/to the side, pulling light weight. I will eventually add adductor stuff.)
  • Squats - 3x12 reps
In between each I did push-ups and core work. I plan to keep adding exercises as I get stronger. The squats are an emphasis. Every week I'm going to add some weight (if I can handle that) and see what happens.

I'll probably start doing some type of running again this weekend, but the volume is going to be down a bit for the next few months as I try to build some strength and raw speed and just basically allow my body to come back. This stage is foundational. It's amazing how weak (and slow) many of us ultra-endurance people can get even as we can run 100 miles. I'm planning short, fast stuff, like 100s, 200s and maybe 400s. I've lost a lot of speed over the past few months. All of the fast stuff I'll be doing over the next few months will be pretty aerobic, except when I'm in the weight room.

The overall plan is to get stronger via weights and faster via short, hard sprinting. In between, I'll do easy runs at MAF with some fartleks mixed in. Again, this is about foundation-building--and it'll help keep me once again stay healthy (injury-free) in 2014.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Overtrained, Burned Out, Whatever

I think I've dipped into overtraining. Ever since the Highlands Ranch 1/2 Marathon two weeks after the Leadville 100, I haven't felt great, save a few decent runs here and there. A nasty cold made its way through our house, leaving me with a hideous cough and a host of symptoms that lasted 3+ weeks.

Then, on Friday night, I lined up for the Scream Scram 5K, a great Halloween-themed event in Wash Park in Denver, and ran a decent time and was first master. But today, when I went out for my run, I felt horrible, mentally and physically, and packed it in after 6 miles--something I'll rarely (read: never) do. I'm a warrior--I battle through tough workouts. But not today. After my aborted run, I headed to the gym and did a decent lower body workout--my first time in the gym since March. And I enjoyed pumping iron. At this point, anything that isn't what I've been doing for 10+ years (running) interests me--even this (mostly after I read this awesome interview with a runner I very much admire).

So how did I get here? Over the summer, while out of work, I consistently put in 15-17 hour weeks with over 15,000 feet of climbing--all while dealing with the stress of being out of work and looking for a job. Thankfully, I was sleeping well every night and so I was able to recover between workouts pretty well (or so I thought at the time). But it's now clear to me that the Leadville Marathon in late June, when I ran a scorching time by my own standards, was the high-water mark of my fitness. By the time I lined up for the Leadville 100 in mid-August, I was on the downside of my fitness--mostly because I'd been pushing myself so hard all summer and once again missed peaking for my A race. And so now I find myself fried mentally and physically and not at all interested in running.

I know this is a temporary thing. In time, my love for running will return (it always does). I'm even burned out on my iPod music. Last week, with no new podcasts to listen to (I'm an avid podcast listener), I just ran in silence with my dog, Nick. Whenever I turned on my music, I immediately got irritated and then turned it back off. Such irritation tells me I need a break.

And so I'm now in a break. I don't know how long it'll last--a week, two weeks, who knows? I plan to lift weights, walk my dog and maybe bike a little. Hell, I might even get on that damned elliptical trainer. Anything but run.

All in all, I've had a good, injury-free year of running.
  • I re-qualified (by more than 10 minutes) for the Boston Marathon at the Arizona Rock 'n Roll Marathon.
  • I set a PR at the Leadville Marathon that will be tough to beat in future years.
  • I had an incredible final 35 miles of the Leadville 100, earning another finish at the Race Across the Sky despite puking 25+ times during the race (food poisoning?).
  • I stayed healthy throughout the year, except for a nasty sprained ankle that seemed to patch back together pretty nicely.
I have every reason to look back on 2013 with happiness and fulfillment. I am grateful for my good health and grateful to have enjoyed some awesome races. I'm excited about 2014, especially if it means the Western States 100 (and Leadville!), but at this point I need to call it quits for this racing season and kind of rest and rebuild.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Training Update; Reviews of Fitness Confidential and the Suunto Core Military Edition Watch

Not much to report on the "training" front. I'm running about 55 miles a week, much of it with my dog, Nick. I'm very motivated to run every day and I'm motivated to go hard now and then. But I don't seem to be motivated to do any races. That said, for a while I actually considered lining up for the Boulder 100-Mile next weekend, but family scheduling stuff won't allow it. I honestly don't know why I want to do the Boulder 100. I think running is just "what I do"; I'm hardwired to run and I love going the distance. Plus, while there's nothing better than an epic course like the Leadville 100, I'm also attracted to loop courses like what you'll find at the Boulder 100--fourteen laps of a 7.14-mile course that is pancake flat. I like that. I doubt I'll be lining up this year--maybe next year?

It's hard to say what the rest of the year may bring, except that I'm entering the Western States 100 lottery and hoping I get into the big dance. If I don't get into Western States, which I fully expect will be the case due to the sheer odds of being selected in the lottery, then I'll be back at Leadville next August. Leadville is just what I do. Speaking of Leadville, there's an awesome interview with Bill Finkbeiner, who's finished the race a record 30 years in a row (!), in the latest issue of Ultrarunning Magazine. Check it out!

***

I recently got a new Suunto Core Military Edition watch, compliments of The Watch Company. I've always known Suunto makes great watches and this one delivers. In addition to all the standard features you'd find in watches for active people, the Core has an altimeter, barometer, digital thermometer, Weather Trend Indicator and digital compass. About the only thing it doesn't have is a GPS. Anyway, I love this watch and I'm still learning about all of its features. I know it's going to be great next summer when I'm back up in the mountains training, and I think it'll also be really useful this winter for snowy trail runs and ski outings. Highly recommended!

***

Every so often, you come across a book that really speaks to you. That's the case with Vinnie Tortorich's new book, Fitness Confidential: Adventures in the Weight Loss Game. Tortorich, who was born and raised in Louisiana and went on to earn his physical education degree and play football at Tulane University, has been a Los Angeles-based personal trainer for decades, working with corporate executives, actors and other "notables." Now, he's come out with a book in which he tells the truth about losing weight and getting into great shape. Along the way, he reveals his own interesting story.

We all know people who have struggled with their weight for years. Like you, I've seen photos of former high school and college classmates who were healthy weight back in the day but are now obese. Hell, that almost happened to me! It's kind of sad, and Vinnie compellingly makes the case that it's because the Standard American Diet (SAD, as I like to call it) now revolves around grains and sugar. You can hardly find anything without sugar or grains in it. The USDA's "food pyramid," he says, is bullshit, which is really sad to me because it dictates things like school lunches. Making matters worse, we just sit on our asses too much--kids and adults alike. As a nation, we're fat, soft and unhealthy!

In his book, Vinnie reveals the surprising simplicity of losing weight and getting into shape. Avoid sugar and grains--yes, eat that steak!--and do a few simple exercises, like jump roping and some basic weight training. He also exposes the seedy underbelly of the American "fitness" industry and practices employed by the big gym companies. They're not in the business of getting you healthy, he says. They're in the business of making money off of your desperation. That said, he does concede that gyms can be beneficial to those who know how to use them properly.

Vinnie isn't just about promoting himself; he praises Joe Friel, Hal Higdon and other experts who actually know what they're doing and he refers the reader to these guys. He clearly doesn't have much love for snake oil salesmen like that clown on TV with the pony tail. Why? Because Vinnie tells the truth; you have to work hard in the gym. It's not going to come easy. That may not be a highly marketable message, but it's the truth!

Vinnie also goes into detail about his battle with leukemia and his multiple attempts to finish the grueling Furnace Creek 508, an epic bicycle race in Death Valley, California. Vinnie isn't just a personal trainer; he's also an accomplished ultra cyclist.

Despite the fact that there's much I don't have in common with Vinnie, he and I think very similarly when it comes to diet and fitness. Contrary to what the "experts" would have us think, getting lean and in good shape isn't rocket science. Eat the right foods and exercise several times a week and you'll get in shape. Avoid quick fixes because they don't work, and understand that you may have to make sacrifices to be healthy--a message you never hear from the snake oil salesmen. Keep it simple.

You can learn more about Vinnie at his website, and also be sure to check out his podcasts. Also, you don't have to read the actual book; it's available on iTunes (how I "read" it). Best of all, the audio book, which is just over seven hours in length, contains a lot of extras, including some stories Vinnie doesn't tell in the hardcopy book. Fitness Confidential is a great book and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2014 Schedule

I've been enjoying running since Leadville. Not that I don't always enjoy running, because I do. Lately, though, I've been running a lot with our dog, Nick, a golden retriever "puppy" (he's about a year and a half old and loves to chase rabbits), and enjoying being outdoors and watching him get in really good shape. In a few weeks, if the weather and conditions permit, Nick will go on his first outing to the Colorado high country.

Running a lot with Nick, I haven't been paying too much attention to pace. That said, there have been times over the past few weeks that I've really gone hard--as in race effort hard--in a few runs. A few of my Strava "course records" in Parker were recently beaten and I've been pretty diligent about getting all those CRs back, which has meant some hard efforts. As a pretty competitive person, I enjoy the challenge of getting the CRs back. I love to run fast, really push it and spend some QT in the pain cave.

It's hard to say what I'll do with the rest of the year. At this point, I'm still leaning toward the Rock 'n Roll Denver 1/2 Marathon in October. I ran a 1:25 at the Highlands Ranch 1/2 Marathon two weeks after Leadville, so I think a 1:23 or better at the RNR Denver 1/2 is possible. That may be it for the year. I really want to do shorter, faster stuff, along with weight training, for the rest of 2013. I'll probably start Maffetone Method training in early January and stay with MAF and weights through March. I see no need to start MAF anytime before January 1. Somewhere in there, maybe before Christmas, I'm going to take a full week off from running.

I've been thinking about what 2014 may hold. It all hinges on whether or not I get into the Western States 100. If so, Western States will be my A race. If no Western, then the schedule will probably include:
  • Colorado Marathon: Early May. This would be my spring A race and I'd go for a sub-3 hour there. I really want another sub-3, even if it's a 2:59. I would need to average 6:50/mile, which seems doable with the proper training.
  • Mt. Evans Ascent: Mid June. I had to miss Evans this year due to family scheduling stuff. I really missed it.
  • Leadville Marathon: Late June. The LT Marathon is an annual tradition for me. It will be hard to beat the 4:19 I threw down there this year.
  • Leadville 100-Mile Run: Mid-August. The big one. Will go for my fourth sub-25 buckle.
Although my chances of being selected in the Western States lottery are slim, I think training for and participating in "the super bowl of ultrarunning" would be fun. I would enjoy the challenge of a very hot weather race with a ton of downhill, a little (but not a lot of) elevation sprinkled in and some quality climbing. I can see myself now running in place in a sauna. In fact, I've half-jokingly asked my wife if we can add a sauna to our basement remodel plans. If no sauna, then exercising in our garage and driving around with the heat on in June will do.

I've more or less decided that I want to go after the 1,000-mile buckle at Leadville. Leadville took some heat for race-day issues this year, but at the end of the day it's still a premier 100-miler and it's an epic experience in the beautiful Colorado high county. I can't imagine being anywhere else in mid-August. It would be cool if all ten buckles were sub-25. I think it's possible. I already have three and need just seven more!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Making the Sport of Ultrarunning Something It's Not

First off, the combined numbers for the months of June, July and August:
  • 1,027 miles
  • 151,000 feet of vertical
I doubt I'll ever rack up that kind of vertical over a single summer again. But you never know....

***

Last Monday I ran the first annual Highlands Ranch Half Marathon. I entered the race to help raise money for someone we know who is undergoing treatment for a very serious form of cancer. But of course I didn't joy-run it (that's just not in my nature). I finished 11th overall out of 636 starters, crossing the line in 1:25--good for 6:33 pace. This was my first half marathon in more than five years!

Although 1:25 is three minutes off my half-marathon PR, I was pretty pleased with my result, given that I'd run the Leadville 100 two weeks prior and I didn't do much fast stuff over the summer. I passed easily 25 runners along the way and didn't get overtaken a single time except in the first few hundred feet. I definitely felt the 100 at about the mile 7 mark of the half. But fortunately I did a decent job of holding pace and finished strong. It's a downhill, point-to-point course but it gives you a decent climb at mile 12 to keep things honest. Personally, I think point-to-point courses are the best.

Interestingly, my average heart rate for the half was 148, with a max heart rate of 158 on that last climb before the finish. My MAF zone is 136-146, so I was pretty much right in it for the whole race. It seems to me that half-marathon pace should be 10-20 beats/minute above MAF.

For the past few years--and really since I've been running--I feel like there's been an imbalance between my aerobic fitness and strength, despite the fact that I've always done a good job with tempo runs. (Admittedly, this summer I didn't do as many tempo runs as usual since I was on the trail every single day.) My aerobic fitness appears to be very good, but for some reason my legs just can't seem to keep pace. I need to figure out the reasons for this imbalance and correct it. A big part of me thinks my tempo runs have been too hard. Maybe I need to relax the pace a bit and stretch it out longer.

Anyway, the Highlands Ranch half left me pretty sore. I'll probably do a few more races this year. I'm interested in the El Grito 5K next weekend, the Highlands Ranch Backcountry Half Marathon in early October and the Rock 'n Roll Denver Half Marathon in late October. I really enjoy the half-marathon distance and right now I'm just not feeling motivated to do any ultras.

***

And speaking of the Denver Rock 'n Roll, someone told me that if you drop out of any Rock 'n Roll race they'll give you a ride to the finish and you can get a finisher's medal despite the fact that you really didn't finish. I didn't believe this, since it goes against EVERYTHING I believe in and stand for, but then I heard another person say the same thing. Is that really true? I guess if this is true, then it's probably also true that they give finisher's medals to those who drop. In all seriousness, if it's really true, it's hard to believe a race would do such a thing--and it makes me kind of hesitant to take part in the Rock 'n Roll "trophies for everyone" circus.

***

That said, I'm not one of those ultrarunners who thinks the world revolves around the "elites." Recently, a new international ultrarunning series with points and sponsors (and lots of question marks, too!) was announced, and the series involves some pretty big races like the Western States 100 and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. This appears to be an attempt to bring some structure to the sport. Personally, I'm not a big fan of efforts to organize a sport that for decades has more or less functioned in the shadows. I'd rather ultrarunning remain low key and small enough so that everyone knows everyone and there's love out there on courses. Sadly, I think that's a pipe dream. I think there are folks who are pushing as hard as they can to make ultrarunning something I believe it was never intended to be. It's almost as if we're embarrassed that our sport is so grassroots and down-home. Be that as it may, I think efforts to organize the sport and bring more corporate participation to it will "work" for a few years, but I don't see them being sustainable as there's just not enough money to be made for sponsors and the sport just isn't that spectator-friendly. I believe that in almost every case where corporate interests and money can be found, there is corruption and greed. We'll see. It wouldn't surprise me if ultrarunning eventually implodes and then comes back as it once was.

If at some point I find myself dissatisfied with the direction of things, then I'll turn to other endurance endeavors, like multi-day, self-supported jaunts on the John Muir Trail.

***

At this point, I'm still undecided about returning to the Leadville 100 in 2014. It all depends on whether or not Lifetime Fitness addresses the problems we saw this year. I am definitely entering the Western States lottery and, if by some miracle I get in, then that would be my focus race in 2014. If I don't get into Western, then I may consider a few other races that would include Leadville. I had thought seriously about Wasatch, but it's pretty late in the summer and this whole debacle left a bad taste in my mouth. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Leadville 100 Lessons

Well, my recovery from Leadville so far has been incredible. I have zero muscle soreness and feel fresh as a daisy. My knees are still a little achy but otherwise I'm A-OK. I think this is all due to the big volume I put in over the summer. When you're in good shape, you recover quicker.

In thinking about what went down last weekend, I'm really just so glad I finished the race. A time of 22:40 (even as I still believe I was in sub-20 or at the least sub-21 shape) is quite good--all things considered--and I'm glad I was able to battle through some tough spots, including my horrible puking episode at the Hopeless aid station. Mostly because of cramps and stomach distress, I spent seven hours on the Hope Pass double crossing--an hour and fifteen minutes more than I should have. I felt pretty awful for the first 65 miles and then broke through and had a strong final 35 miles in which I passed probably three dozen runners and literally ran up the Powerline climb (something very few runners do that late in the race). While I'm still pretty competitive at heart, I'm thrilled to have finished Leadville, because I know how painful it is to DNF your A-race.

In thinking back to the race, I realize my nutrition strategy at Leadville is still far from perfect. It's very hard to eat at 10,000+ feet! After four races there, it's ridiculous that I still haven't figured out a good nutrition plan. Whereas Perpetuem seemed to work well for me in 2011, this year it was a disaster. I'm really intrigued by GU Roctane and will give it a try this fall. It may be the ticket for next year--I hear it's packed with calories (240/serving), good-tasting and fairly light. Whatever the case, I simply have to find a way to get 300 calories in me every hour.

So, going into 2013, I'm adding "figure out nutrition" to my to-do list. It's a huge need.

As for what I may do for the rest of 2013, I'm seriously considering the Rock 'n Roll Denver Marathon in October. If  not that marathon, then maybe the half. Other races that cross my mind are the Run Rabbit Run and Bear Chase 50-milers. I would pick just one of those three races. I'm most certainly doing a local 5K in a few weeks--it's an annual tradition for me and it's for a good cause (raises money for soldiers). I know my speed is lacking right now, so I won't go into the 5K with huge expectations (sub 19 would be nice). I'm also going to hit the weights soon and work on my hips, glutes, hamstrings and quads. I think the weight training I did last winter had a huge payoff. Plenty of skiing this winter will provide some needed cross-training benefits and a bit of rest.

After Thanksgiving,, I'll probably transition back to Maffetone Method training and stay with that for four months or so. I'm definitely entering the Western States 100 lottery and, if I get in, that'll be my goal race in 2014. If I don't get into Western States, which will probably be the case, then Leadville or maybe some other mountain 100-miler will be the focus. One of these days I'll tackle two "to-dos" that continue to stay on the list:
  • Fast 100K road race (Mad City?)
  • One more crack at 24 hours - did 131 in 2009 and would like to go for 140
In closing, I want to send huge congrats to Scott Jaime on setting the fastest known time on the 486-mile Colorado Trail. Scott lives in Highlands Ranch and is a tremendous runner, completing many Hardrocks and finishing third there this year (he finished second behind Kyle Skaggs in 2008). Scott finished yesterday (Saturday). Here's a short video of him after he finished his eight-plus day trek on the CT.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Leadville (Lifetime Fitness) Under Attack

Since Saturday's race, it seems there has been a growing number of people going to "the internet" to take the Leadville 100-Mile Run organizers to task for some snafus that occurred during the event. While many of these gripes hold validity (runner safety, transportation, aid station access, traffic, etc.), I think it's important for folks to take a step back, share their concerns directly with the race organizers (which I plan to do via a letter) and let the organizers respond. (Update: I have a call into the RD and hope to hear back from him.)

I love Leadville. I love the town. I love the people. I love the race. I love the course. I love the mountains. I even love the annoyances. There will never be a perfect race. Yes, Lifetime Fitness, which took ownership of the Leadville Race Series in 2010, has allowed some issues to get out of hand. For one thing, the field is now way too big and the race infrastructure and local roads simply can't support a thousand runners and their crews out there. But let's give Lifetime the opportunity to assess what happened over the weekend and do the right things--because I believe Lifetime is now facing its "come to Jesus moment" with the race. I for one very much hope the process will involve direct engagement of runners, crew members, locals, law enforcement and others closely associated with the race.

Whether or not I return to the Leadville 100 as a racer next year is yet to be determined. I've already booked a cabin for the weekend, just to be on the safe side. Honestly, it's hard for me to imagine myself anywhere else next August, even as I readily admit there are several other races that interest me (Angeles Crest, Wasatch, Western States, the Bear). I do plan to enter the Western States lottery, but I doubt I'll get in, and it's not like the other races I'm interested in are easy to get into, either.

As a parting shot, I hope the Leadville race organizers speak up soon. There's a lot of criticism swirling right now and Lifetime Fitness needs to respond meaningfully very soon. Some task forces will probably need to be created in order to address some problems (and I'm more than glad to participate in the process). Whatever happens, I hope Lifetime engages the "Leadville nation," rather than try to fix everything itself--because that's a recipe for failure.

Even as the Leadville Race Series is owned by Lifetime, it's really owned by the town of Leadville. And it always will be.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Coming Back from the Dead and Digging Deep: 2013 Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run Report

Note to reader: This race report is evolving. Please check back for new content!

If there's one thing I've learned from racing 100-mile mountain races, it's that they don't get any easier. They strip you down to your core, leaving you with little more than primal instincts. When you're out there running 100 miles, nothing matters except the task at hand.

At 2:40 a.m., I finished my third Leadville 100 run with a time of 22 hours and 40 minutes--five minutes off my 2011 Leadville PR. That was good for 39th overall out of a ridiculously bloated field of 943 starters (over 1,200 signed up!). Given what transpired earlier in the day, it's incredible to me that I even finished the race, let alone ran the grueling Powerline climb 80 miles into the race.

At the start. Photo by Rob Timko.
First things first: Having my family there, once again, to support me meant everything. I draw so much inspiration from Anne and our son, and words just can't describe what it means for my mom and dad to be there for me. As I've already written, no matter how old I get, my mom and dad will always be...my mom and dad. They are always there for me. I hope one day my son looks at Anne and me the same way.

Not long after leaving Outward Bound inbound, mile ~25.
The first 65 miles of the race were pretty awful. When I came into Twin Lakes inbound (mile 39.5), I felt queasy and achy all over. My running to that point had been flat and uninspired. After the training I put in all summer, this was not how my race should have been going! Having fallen hard a few miles before coming into Twin Lakes, and with a broken Cambelback that made sipping water a tedious process, I was starting to get preoccupied with negative thoughts. Things were going badly. Nevertheless, with my new Ultimate Direction hydration pack (AK style) now on, I set off for Hope Pass wanting to get it on with that mountain.

Descending into Twin Lakes, mile 39.5.

Alas, Hope Pass was a disaster. I struggled up the front side, a 3,400-vertical foot climb to the 12,600-foot pass, and fought excruciating cramps in my quads (as I did last year). Given how I trained all summer, I should have nailed this climb. Fortunately, I managed a decent descent and I felt pretty good on the trail going into Winfield--the halfway point of the race. My time into Winfield was about 9:35, forty minutes off my "stretch" goal. It was a tad warm in Winfield. There, I met up with my family and Chuck Radford, who would pace me back over the mountain. It's the realization that you have to go back over a 12,600-foot mountain pass that causes many runners to DNF in Winfield. But "DNF" wasn't on my mind in Winfield. I was fortunate to have Chuck joining me at that critical time in the race. He finished sixth at the Silver Rush 50-mile run a few weeks prior and has a marathon PR of 2:42. Yeah, he's quite capable.

Arriving at the Hopeless aid station inbound, mile ~44. Photo by Rickey Gates.

Chuck and I navigated the rolling Sheep Gulch Trail, which connects to the Hope Pass climb, pretty well and I felt in decent spirits. He's a very upbeat guy and offered encouragement at just the right times. Despite my good spirits, the climb up the backside of Hope Pass was hideous. I couldn't seem to get in a rhythm, in part because there were way too many damned runners out there clogging up the narrow trail. As it was, I was climbing the mountain with several hundred runners coming down en route to Winfield. Halfway up the mountain, a guy came barreling down on "my side" of the trail, totally out of control, and crashed into me, nearly causing me to fall down the mountain. He was obviously a newbie and didn't have a clue how the trail is supposed to work. A few choice words were exchanged, which is really unfortunate, and then we were back on our way. At some point, the race organizers have got to make some tough decisions about the size of the field (the subject of a future blog post).

Simply put, I thought we would never get to the top of Hope Pass. This is a grueling 2,600-foot climb that is steep and never-ending. I felt like I was moving in slow motion and my quads were pissed off big time. The two-way traffic is far and away the worst part. But, at last, we got to the top and then started a very slow, labored descent. By this time, I started to feel extremely queasy and on the verge of throwing up. Finally, we arrived in the Hopeless aid station, situated at about 12,000 feet. The supplies at Hopeless are brought up on llamas! I took a few sips of something (don't even remember what) and then started puking in the tent while Chuck refilled my bottles. I puked easily 15 times. Chuck said my eyes were glazed over. Finally, the medical personnel took over. The lady running the show told me she needed eight minutes to get me back on track. I said I didn't have eight minutes--I need to get on my way. She got really feisty with me and used some choice words to get my attention. I could see she was sincere and wanted to help me. Before long, I was back on my feet and Chuck and I hobbled down the mountain. My quads were on fire. Clearly I'd bonked.

Going across the meadow back to Twin Lakes, I had serious doubts about finishing the race. I entered Twin Lakes around 5:15 p.m. (which is way later than planned) and was greeted by JT, a five-time Hardrock 100 finisher who offered up some serious encouragement. JT told me that it would get better and that I had to keep going. He understood where I was mentally and physically, and he also reminded me that your odds of finishing Leadville go up dramatically if you can get out of Twin Lakes. I sat in a chair surrounded by the crew and feeling utterly hopeless. I elected to go with my Hoka Stinsons shoes because I felt the cushion would help. Finally, I got up and Scott Williams and I started the next leg of the journey. Scott would be pacing me to Outward Bound, mile 75.

The hike out of Twin Lakes was awful. I had no energy and was in a bad mood. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I turned my right ankle on the side of the trail. The pain was excruciating and I told Scott this was it--I would DNF at the Mount Elbert water station. Scott tried to talk me into continuing, and finally I agreed to go to the Pipeline crew station, which is at approximately mile 72. Right around mile 65, with my legs completely dead and runners passing us left and right (this was the true low point, in my opinion), Scott talked me into eating some Fig Newtons. I hadn't really had anything since puking at the Hopeless aid station. I downed the newtons and then, incredibly, started to feel some energy returning to me. We began running and my ankle started to improve. I just basically buried the pain and tried to forget about it. Before long, I was putting in sub-9-minute miles (mind you, this was more than 65 miles into the race and at over 10,000 feet) and we were cruising along on one of the more runnable sections of the course. I felt reenergized and wanted to pass all of the runners who'd overtaken us earlier. We did! And my cushy Hokas made it all the easier!

The last 35 miles of the race were fun. I was in the zone. According to reports, apparently my splits from the Half Pipe aid station to Outward Bound and Outward Bound to Mayqueen were among the fastest of the entire race (for anyone). Scott and I passed a ton of runners from miles 65 to 75. I felt indestructible and fresh as a daisy. I'm sure the 20 ounces of Coke I consumed at Pipeline, thanks to my wife's good thinking, made a difference. I also allowed myself an ibuprofen to help take the edge off the pain in my ankle, feet and legs.

Leaving Winfield, mile 50, with Chuck.  He was with me during some
of my darkest moments on Hope Pass. I didn't know him that well before the
race, but he's quickly become a close friend.

At Outward Bound, I picked up Chuck for the second leg of our journey together. We ran up the road, past the Fish Hatchery, and then entered the trail connecting to the infamous Powerline climb, which has spelled doom for many a runner. Unlike previous years, I was excited to be on Powerline. By now, I felt the benefits of my hard training all summer and knew I had Powerline by the balls. We ran several sections of the big climb and passed well over a dozen runners--the best moment I've had in a 100-miler since 2009. I was on fire and I had all the confidence in the world in that one moment in time.

Once at the top of Sugarloaf Pass, we started the long descent to the Colorado Trail and we ran every step of it. Once on the Colorado Trail, a gnarly section in the night, I decided to run the runnable stretches and hike the really rocky patches so as to avoid turning my compromised ankle. Chuck agreed that it was a good strategy. I looked down at my watch and noted that we were making up a lot of time. As I said to Chuck, "I can't change the fact that Hope Pass took 7 hours [it should have taken more like 5 hours, 45 minutes]. What I can control is how I run the rest of this race."

We got into Mayqueen, mile 86.5, around 11:15 at night. The place was electric. Needing a jolt, I swigged some Coke and then immediately began puking again. I puked 5-10 times and then was directed to a cot, where I proceeded to puke some more. In between pukes, I talked briefly with Gary David, the co-host of Elevation Trail. One of the medical volunteers offered me an anti-nausea pill, which I learned would DQ me. I refused the pill and was actually kind of irritated that they didn't first try to help me get back on my feet before offering me assistance that would mean a DQ. A DQ at mile 86.5 should always be the last resort!

Fortunately, the puking stopped and we were back on our way--the finish line a little over 13 miles away. Leaving Mayqueen, Chuck gave me a ginger chew that seemed to work well. We ran probably two-third of the stretch from Mayqueen to the Tabor Boat Ramp (mile 93), hiking only the super technical stretches in order to protect my ankle. In the process, we passed a few runners. I was still feeling good but I could feel my strength starting to taper off. Chuck offered many words of encouragement and stayed on my case about drinking.

After the Tabor Boat Ramp, I simply couldn't run as much as I wanted, and so we down-shifted into power hiking mode. Whenever we came upon runners, I began running in order to pass then, and then we started walking again once we'd overtaken them. The last seven miles are mentally taxing, especially the long Boulevard section that seems to go on forever. I also would be remiss in not mentioning that the descent on "mini Powerline" in the pitch-black dark was hideous. But that's Leadville. It ain't supposed to be easy, folks!

Turning onto Sixth Street, with the finish line about a half-mile up the street, I felt pretty destroyed physically but quite mentally engaged. No one was behind us so we hiked up the street. Anne greeted Chuck and me about a quarter of a mile from the finish. She was really excited and proud of me for finishing so strong. Knowing that my wife was proud of me for gutting it out and then turning the tables on a rough patch made me feel so good. I'll be honest here: When you're a guy, there are few things better than knowing your woman is proud of you.

With the finish line about 100 yards away, I ran in, overwhelmed with joy, pride and relief. I had finished my third Leadville 100 and earned my third big, sub-25-hour buckle. I was overjoyed! Last year's DNF was behind me!

Overjoyed in the finishers' tent.

At the finish line, Anne, my dad and Chuck took care of my needs, helping me to the tent for some warmth and then to the medical tent for some Tums to relieve my sour stomach. Although I figured puking after my finish was imminent, incredibly I never barfed after crossing the line.


The hardware. My third sub-25-hour Leadville 100 buckle,
along with my finisher's medal.
There are many takeaways from this race that I'm still processing. I will say that in my darkest moment, when I felt tempted to DNF, I ultimately decided to stay in the race because of my son. I didn't want to let him down by quitting when things got tough, and I also didn't want to let down Anne, my family, Chuck and Scott, everyone who was pulling for me, and the readers of this blog. My refusal to give in ultimately paid off big time. I am forever indebted to my family, Chuck and Scott for being out there to support me. Thanks to their love and support, I fought through the lowest of lows and came back from the dead. The last 35 miles of that race were awesome and some of the best miles I've ever had. I feel like those last 35 miles were something of a psychological breakthrough with Leadville.

As to why it took me 65 miles to get in a groove, I have no answer to that. In time, I hope to work through what went right and what went wrong, because I believe there's a lot to be learned in my race.

Here are some interesting stats from the race:
  • 1200 entered
  • 943 started
  • 494 total finishers (52% finisher rate)
  • 137 finished under 25 hours (14% of all starters and 27% of all finishers) - I'm d to be in this select group!
I'll write more in the coming posts.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Leadville Final Countdown...

Just like that, the Leadville 100 is now six days away! It seems like yesterday I was sitting in my car in Colorado Springs one cold January morning signing up for the race only seconds after registration opened. Now, eight months later, the moment of truth is only days away.

Leadville isn't the only significant thing going on in my life. At the time of this writing, tomorrow I start week two in my new job. I'm working at Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation as director of a public will-building campaign focused on improving children's oral health in the state. It's a great job and Delta Dental is an excellent company. I'm very fortunate, but of course starting a job involves stress...as does the final countdown to a 100-mile mountain race! So, with a lot of super important things swirling right now, I'm doing my best to remain calm and focused.

Getting ready for race day.

Happily, last week I spent three nights at Keystone Ski Resort, elevation 9,200 feet, for a work-related conference!

Going into Leadville, I'm so fortunate and blessed to be backed in words and deeds by Anne and our son, my mom and dad, and two dedicated, accomplished runners in Chuck R. and Scott W. who will be pacing me. Hopefully, AJ will be there, too, but he's getting over a knee procedure. Simply put, I couldn't do all the requisite training for these crazy races without Anne's love and support. I know for our family sometimes my training can get challenging (and annoying) at times. Their support means everything to me. My mom and dad will once again be there. No matter how old I get, my mom and dad are...my mom and dad. And so having them there is special.

As I said to the crew, my fitness is without question my biggest asset going into Leadville. The last few years I couldn't have said that (especially last year). But this year I'm fit, as a result of weeks of 90-105 miles and 16,000+ feet of climbing. Of course, there's more to 100s than just fitness. I'm mentally dialed in and I want this race--every inch of it. I know it's going to require suffering and I'm ready, willing and able to hurt as I get closer and closer to the finish line. Last year, I wasn't in the mood to hurt...something that can happen to ultrarunners if you do this sport long enough (this is my tenth year). Fortunately, it was just a temporary problem for me. The emotional pain I've endured this year, as a result of last year's DNF, is more than enough fuel for me. While a "fast" time would be great, what I most want is a strong finish (read: my third big buckle).

So, while I'm busily packing my "don't-drop" boxes and trying to think through all the needs that may come on race day, foremost in my mind are thoughts that I'm ready for this challenge and really all I need are my heart, mind and body...plus some rain gear! Yes, it's been quite a wet, cool late summer in Colorado, and so it'll be critical for all runners to be prepared for rain and cold.

I'll try to post an update on Thursday or Friday.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

MAF Test Results

This morning, I went to Legend High School in Parker, which is about a mile from my house, to run a MAF test. The track is at 6,200 feet--not exactly sea level. I wanted to get a precise handle on my aerobic fitness going into Leadville, because aerobic fitness is hugely important in ultras. First, the conditions:
  • Temperature ranged from 68-72 degrees
  • Abundant sunshine, making it fairly warm
  • Breeze from the east, making me work a tad harder when running against it
My MAF zone is 136-146 beats per minute per the 180 Formula (I just turned 40 but this year I'm sticking to 136-146 and will go down to 135-145 per my age on 1/1/2014). In MAF tests, you run 4-5 miles (ideally on the same course so you can measure your progress) at your top MAF number. So, for me, that means I needed to run 4-5 miles at 146 beats per minute--the top end of my aerobic zone. Just to make things interesting, I decided to tack on an extra mile and make it six miles at MAF.
 
After an 11-minute warm-up via a jog from my house to the track, I got right into my MAF test. My splits were:
  • Mile 1: 6:22
  • Mile 2: 6:34
  • Mile 3: 6:36
  • Mile 4: 6:41
  • Mile 5: 6:45
  • Mile 6: 6:48
The 12-second difference between miles one and two probably indicates that I didn't allow myself enough of a warm-up. There shouldn't be that much drop off after mile one. Lesson learned. Next time I'll warm up for about three miles. Anyway, all of that comes out to an average MAF mile of 6:37. My effort level was fairly low, especially in terms of breathing (as it should have been). I then did a 26-minute cool-down, feeling good the whole way back home.
 
I'm fairly pleased with the results of today's MAF test.