UltraRunning Magazine – October 2014 issue, Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Coverage
Please CLICK on a page to enlarge (you know, so you can read it!) :D
UltraRunning Magazine – October 2014 issue, Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Coverage
Please CLICK on a page to enlarge (you know, so you can read it!) :D
So I had this crazy thought last year: do two 100s in 2014 to celebrate turning 40. This reminds me [now] of a Navy buddy who had a coffee cup that read, “I had a bad idea.” What the h*ll, it’s ultrarunning after all, so it’ll probably suck for while but then you’ll have some great memories and stories to share. Game on!!
All things considered, things have gone pretty darn well this season. I can’t complain [too much]. With the full 2013 season in my legs, I feel I’ve navigated the 2014 race season fairly well—got some speed in the bank early in the year, culminating with a fast 50k in February, hilly 50-milers in March, April, and May. A huge block of run training in June not only set me up to do well at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in June but also allowed me to recover properly from it so that I could sneak some August training in between the two 100s, which were only 8 weeks apart.
About that August training. Well, it was total fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. I started back to school, and that stress, pushing 150 kids through my classroom everyday—learning names, establishing routines, and the like, really took a toll on the available energy [and desire] to train for another mountainous 100 in September. So, I had to trim the fat—lots of days completely off, some cycling thrown in, concentrate on getting good sleep [so AM running went out the window], a mid-week tempo session, along with a quality weekend long run. Bare bones. At the end of the day, Pine to Palm (P2P) was about experiencing a different 100-miler (a mountainous and beautiful point-to-point race) and celebrating turning 40. I knew I wouldn’t be as bullet-proof as I was in July, but what do they say? Sometimes you have to let yourself be a little vulnerable. Just go out there, run smart, and do your thing.
With all the stress of stepping out of my life for a few days to go run 100 miles in the forest, I was carrying a fair amount of guilt with me; guilt for leaving my students for two days, guilt for sticking my wife, Amanda, with the dogs the whole time, and guilt for just generally being 40 years old and still chasing something, out there on the race-course. Why?…
I guess it’s because I believe in the late Louis Zamperini’s words—we should get out there and do the things we find fascinating so that we can feel most alive. The day before the race, I found a card Amanda had stashed in my race-gear. She’d included the Louis Zamperini quote about experiencing as much as you can in life. Amanda and I became fans of “Zamp” through Laura Hillebrand’s book, Unbroken, which comes out in theaters this Christmas. In both TRT and P2P, in those darker moments, I imagined myself sitting in the theater, watching ol’ Zamp’s movie, thinking back to my summer struggles in these two great events, my own [tame by comparison] tests of will and perseverance. On some level, I just wanted to be worthy of that moment in the future; sitting there, still, relaxed, and enjoying a movie on the big screen with Amanda, with a level of pride for having risen to the occasions, doing something I find fascinating and for which I have great enthusiasm. I imagined getting the silent nod from Zamp, as if my long-distance running efforts in Tahoe and Oregon were my way of honoring his life. In the spirit of Viktor Frankl, my imagining a moment in the future gave great meaning to the present moment, when all our bodies want to do is stop running, stop pushing…
Amanda’s full of good ideas and suggested I get a head start on the weekend by driving half-way up to the race and stay in Redding on Thursday night, then drive the rest of the way up the next day. lnside Trail Racing team-mate, and TRT100 pacer, Chris Wehan, threw his hat in the race and would be one of my main competitors. We’d meet up in Ashland on Friday, where I’d drop my car off near the finish. Chris, his pacer Stephen Wassather, and I jetted off to the race-meeting in Williams, deposited drop-bags, and headed back to our hotel in Grants Pass where Chris’s girlfriend, Melanie would later join the party.
Chris and Mel were at P2P last year so it was awesome having the gang back together after our fun times just two months prior in Tahoe. They knew all the ins-n-outs of the event, including how to get us to the starting line in the morning. I was super grateful.
It’s all fun-n-games race morning, bumpin’ around, takin’ pictures, really just not thinking about what’s really ahead. I’d made a bracelet with distances from aid-station to aid-station and that’s what I kept telling myself in the days and minutes before the 6am start—“Just run aid to aid. Nothing else exists.” Chunking in this manner really is a highly effective strategy to get through the day.
Since I was in unchartered territory here in Oregon, running my second 100 in eight weeks, I didn’t think I had it in me to get close to Tim Olson’s course-record (CR) of 17:19, set on a different course in 2011. That didn’t stop me from plugging 10:23/mi into my Virtual Pacer. At mile 28 I was 30min ahead of CR pace, but that moment was the only instance I looked at it. I’d need near perfect preparation and execution on race-day to get close to the CR, not to mention not having a CR 100mi performance just 8 weeks prior.
According to Ultra Signup, my main competitors were thought to be Chris Wehan (32), Andrew Miller (18) 3rd place in 2013, and Lon Freeman (39). In the months leading up, I was sure the competition on the front would grow, especially since P2P has become a Western States qualifying race. I’m sure other events the same weekend—Run Rabbit Run 100 in Colorado, The Rut 50 in Montana, etc.—drew speedy speedsters away from P2P. Oh well, not complaining!
The race went off without much fanfare. You have to love the start of a 100mi. It’s like, “Okay, the race started, let’s shoot the sh*t with some buddies we haven’t seen in a while.” Red Bluff teacher, and long-time ultrarunning bro, Joe Palubeski found me in the dark in the opening mile and we chatted it up for a bit. Then I realized I hadn’t wished Chris good luck so found him. Then, slowly, it was drifting into the moment at hand—running a 100 miles to Ashland. It was all goosebumps and smiles…
Two-time defending champ, Gerad Dean, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the TRT100 Training Runs and running with on race day in July, executed a great race here at P2P last year. So much so that I based my race on his 2013 ultralive.net splits since I felt that’d be the most valid guestimate of my first performance here. This proved invaluable on race-day, especially with regard to nutrition and getting from drop-bag to drop-bag, since Amanda wasn’t here to crew me, though Chris’s girlfriend Mel, was beyond awesome in helping me out wherever she could [all day] while crewing for Chris.
The first 28mi to my first drop-bag to Seattle Bar is a blur. I knew one thing coming into this race: I didn’t want to get off course. There were a few occasions where I just happened to be looking in the right direction and caught course-ribbons at the last minute. But not getting off course all day in this point-to-point 100-miler was pretty great. P2P race-director, Hal Koerner, told us at the race briefing that we’d have to try pretty hard to get off course. Still, I didn’t trust myself. Note: I talked to a woman at awards on Sunday; she’d gotten off course four times.
We were running with a group a four, which included Juan De Oliva, who I was talking with while we were all running up some switchbacks early. There was one occasion where we all thought we were off course (but weren’t) and another where I was running in the back and happened to spy a ribbon off to my right, going up another switchback. The gang had gone straight, so I gave a holler, and they turned around and followed me up the next stretch. Juan gave a great big smile ’cause we just avoided excess miles. A little team-work through this section proved valuable.
Next thing I knew I was enjoying chatting with Ethan Linck (23) from Seattle who was running his first 100 here at P2P. We were putting down some low 6’s running down some fire-roads and eventually caught up and quickly passed first place. I had on my trusty HRM and was keeping the effort parked in the low 140s. It was curious at that moment how it was more challenging to keep my HR down on the descents than on the climbs. I guess, instinctively, my mind wants to push the downs since that is a greater strength than the ups. Or, it could be that I just have more fun running down and just want to enjoy the sensations of running fast and free.
The downhill continued and through Steamboat Ranch at 22, I looked to just another 6mi to my first drop-bag at Seattle Bar. Winding fire-road. I heard Ethan behind me and then I didn’t any more. Relax and run…
I quickly weighed in at Seattle Bar (150lbs) emptied my drop-bag’s contents, downed 20oz of coconut water and grabbed a 20oz bottle of Vitargo and a 20oz bottle of water, for what was advertised as a nasty section up to Stein Butte at mile 33. I took off my shirt expecting hot temps and hightailed it outta Seattle Bar.
We were close to 50k in and the temps weren’t living up to their reputation. It appeared the smoke from recent forest fires was insulating us from the sun. Good thing too, was the smoke, albeit light, wasn’t affecting me in the least. This section, turned out to be very enjoyable and, for some strange reason, I kept imagining I was running on my home trails at Lake Sonoma. This would happen all throughout the race, where it was all-too-easy to imagine running at Hood/Sugarloaf or on the trails at TRT100. Regardless, it was clear that I was well-adapted to the sometimes technical nature of the P2P single-track stretches.
Within two miles, I almost step on a juvenile rattlesnake [who was thankfully rattling plenty loud for me to hear] and then my Garmin HRM craps out on me (perhaps the spike from the rattler scare short-circuited my HRM?).
P2P is a ultra-run designed for ultrarunners by ultrarunners. You get four great opportunities to assess the situation behind you—at Squaw Lakes (41.5), Hanley Gamp/Squaw Peak (52), Dutchman Peak (65), and finally at Wagner Butte (87). And that keeps things interesting.
At Squaw Lakes, I cruised in, dropped a bottle, and ran around the 2mi circumference of the lake, anxious to get a bead on the competition behind. I was wondering when the kid, Andrew Miller, was going to make his move. I knew he’d just won Waldo 100k on August 16th. He had to be tired from that huge effort. Not to mention his P2P course knowledge, after placing 3rd here last year. Like Speedgoat Karl says, “you’re always faster the second time [you run the same 100]“. Yeah, so I get back around to the aid-station, see my old Santa Rosa friend Chandra (who lives in SoCal now, with her boyfriend Kevin, who I’m currently coaching) who’s run out from the aid station. She gives me some encouragement and I ask her how far back 2nd place is. She says not too far back and I ask her who it is. She doesn’t know. Well, what does he look like? An ultrarunner. :-)
Back at the Squaw Lakes aid-station, Chris’s girlfriend Mel and Chris’s later-in-the-day pacer, Stephen, have my drop-bag at the ready. I’ve begun feeling the effects of the last 50 miles. Plus I’m a little cold. What happened to all that crazy heat we were supposed to get Hal? Mel said, “You’re doing great, Chris is about 15min behind you.” I said, “Chris is in 2nd?!” Mel replied, “Yeah, he’s moving up.”
Running out, I’m thinking either Chris did a lot of secret training I don’t know about, or he’s writing a check his body can’t cash (which is good and bad depending how I’m thinking about it). My next thought, was who better to be chasing me than a buddy, who just paced me at TRT100, who’s girlfriend and pacer were helping me along in the race since it was just me and my drop-bags up here in Oregon. Still, it was a race and we were now pushing each other in earnest. Perfect.
At Hanley Gap (50/52), Celeb-RD Hal makes you run up to the top of Squaw Peak to retrieve a flag pin. I love it. When I got up there I found myself standing and staring at a concrete slab. No flags in sight. WTF Hal?!? I looked up and saw this little building up on top of some rocks. Ah-Ha! I found some little stairs to climb and beheld the coveted flags. On the way down I was filled with ambivalence, seeing Chris climbing up. I told him about the path up to the little flags. He said he knew. And I remembered he’d done this race last year—advantage Chris.
As I polished off the out-n-back, and arrived back at the aid-station, Mel threw me my calorie bottle and sent me on my way. I’d seen a woman starting up Squaw Peaks as I was coming down and was trying to wrap my brain around whether she was really in my race. Did I actually see a bib # on her right leg? She looked like she was all business with those trekking poles… Hmm… I’m really starting to feel this race… I have an idea…
I had a coin purse in my back shorts pocket. I refer to it as my mini medicine cabinet. For P2P it included a few Tums, Pepto Tabs, some anti-nausea pills, and a few acetaminophen (500mg) capsules. Since I knew the hardest part of the day was coming up—mile50 to approx 65—I decided to pop a couple acetaminophen to take the edge off. I figured I’d done a good job hydrating and eating up ’til this point and the body was in good shape, it should tolerate the acetaminophen just fine. Umm, wrong.
Shortly thereafter, my stomach started to go south. I’ve only had problems with vomiting in 100s, not with other end of the digestive track. My stomach was doing full-on doing somersaults. “This f_____g sucks!” Damm*t, I should’ve only taken ONE of those acetaminophen capsules. Sh*t!! I visited the side of the road a few times, getting some practice on my cat-hole digging skills. “If I could just work out this pain in my gut.” My lead is shrinking. They are coming. Suck it up… Keep moving.” I massaged my stomach and could no longer keep my hand-helds tucked in the small of my back since the belt I had on to secure them was not helping my stomach distress.
[Excerpt from Pine to Palm's race-director's new book, entitled Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon from 50k to 100miles and Beyond]:
Pain relievers might ease discomfort or offer a helping hand a a low point in the race, but they should be approached with caution. Most studies point to NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen—or “vitamin I,” as it is affectionately called among ultrarunners—as being a poor choice of pain reliever during a race. For one, it can mask the muscle damage you are inflicting. Also, studies indicate it can contribute to a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which can result in renal failure [...]
Aspirin, aspirin creams, naproxen, and acetaminophen, on the other hand, do not present similar problems for the kidneys and are generally good go-to choices of pain relief. I apply an aspirin cream preventively to my calves and around my knees prior to an event because I have found it help reduce inflammation and manage pain. I might take a single acetaminophen during a race, at mile 50 or so, to obtain a degree of relief when I need it most. However, I limit my intake to just that one. That may be excessively conservative but, personally speaking, I just don’t want to rely on it. I am uncomfortable with the idea of masking pain, perhaps running myself into the ground with an injury. Sometimes, when the analgesic wears off later, you make the unpleasant discovery that you would have been better off listening to your body instead of muting its signals! Thus I recommend a conservative approach to pain relievers (p.97).
I wish I would have read this prior to Pine to Palm. I did know better than to take ibuproven (NSAIDs) in an ultra. If I’d only taken ONE acetaminophen capsule instead of those two I would have likely avoided a lot of unnecessary discomfort (and slowing!). Live and learn. Bottom line: I need to be less of a baby. Like they say, borrowing strength builds weakness.
On and on and on it went, up the longest, god-forsaken fire-road, smoke hanging low in the sky and a red sun burning on the horizon. While my stomach was giving me fits, I remember trying to dwell on what was going right. I was grateful for how well my legs were doing beneath me—just clicking over in their Hoka Stinson ATR‘s without a care in the world. “Come on stomach, let’s pull through this. The legs are ready to dance…” The top of Dutchman Peak could not come fast enough.
Up on top of Dutchman, something shifted, I could see Chris on one of the several switchbacks below. He was only about 10min back at that point. Then I looked at the incredible views to my left as I approached the summit. All of a sudden I felt myself starting to get choked up [with emotion]. Up a bit more I saw Mel up to my right on an overlook with her camera. She called down with some encouragement and said, “Amanda liked her flowers!” This added to the emotion. Note – I thought it’d be cool for my wife to receive flowers from me while she was at home, hitting the refresh button on ultralive.net all day, whilst I was in the belly of the beast in Oregon. Next, I see this guy with his arms up and realize it’s my pacer, Louis (which, by the way, is a great name for any pacer of mine, being a Louis Zamperini fan and all).
Dutchman Peak was hands-down the turning point of the race for me. Running up to the summit to retrieve my drop-bag, the American Author’s song, Best Day of My Life blasted out of huge speakers. For a moment, I thought Amanda was actually up there, somehow choreographing the whole scene; that song’s been a favorite of ours all year (the bulldog version of course). Yeah, so Louis and I get our sh*t together and get outta Dodge, running back down to the primary trail. We soon pass Chris, who says to me, “Let’s not do this again next year.” Cracking up, I wholeheartedly agree him. Then, just a bit back from Chris is the first-place female, Becky Kirschenmann.
I would come to find out that Becky was the women’s defending champ, and used Trans Rockies (a multi-day, 120mi trail run with 20’000′ of vertical, held this year from 8/11-8/16) to help prepare her for Pine to Palm. It was probably best I didn’t know these things as now she was within 10min of me at mile 65 of a 100mi run.
Departing Dutchman, we connect with the primary trail again, leading to some of the most delightful single-track running of the day. We pass a sign, “7 miles to next aid.” Things were again good. There was some hoot-n-hollerin’ goin’ on as Louis and I enjoyed the beginning of our journey together. Both of us transplant Pennsylvania boys who drive the same Subaru Outback Sport, live in Sonoma County, and only met by chance just two weeks prior. Louis’ runner came up injured and Louis, thankfully, offered his pacing services about a week out from P2P, much to Amanda’s relief. With what felt like a new lease on life, it was great to be on some very runnable terrain again, with the rising red moon in front of us. Five miles from Dutchman now, watching the water and calories. Six miles… 7miles… Where’s the aid-station?! 8 miles. Going dry… 9 miles… “Did we miss it?” We’re seeing blue ribbon. Boom, there it is. Whew. Long John Saddle.
I put on a tank-top, which was perfect with the current temps, grabbed two fresh bottles and we were off. No sign of any body behind. We got a mile out and couldn’t hear anyone back at the aid-station. We trust though that Chris and Becky are in pursuit. Don’t let up. This sh*t is getting exciting! At TRT I was chasing a CR so that’s what kept that race fun. Here, I was way off the CR but was feeling fortunate to have two runners closing in behind. This is what it’s all about. The simplicity of racing is often a great joy
Mile 80 (Wagner Butte). My mind was still playing tricks on me, given the conditioning it’s received from its four Tahoe Rim Trail 100s. Mile 80 sounds close to the finish, but at TRT100, you’re at the bottom of Diamond Peak, with a lot of hard running left to do. “Don’t think. Just run from aid to aid.” Curiously lucid, I got some great information from the aid-station captain. He said, it’s 3mi to the turn that takes you to the out-n-back up to Wagner Butte to retrieve the flag-pin. It’s 1.7mi from the trail to the top and 1.7 back. you’ll take a left at the bottom, then it’s 3mi down to Rd 2060 aid-station. Game on.
Louis and I discussed the possibility of getting up and down Wagner Butte before Chris and/or Becky arrived to do the out-n-back for the flag pin. I knew with how close they were at Dutchman, even with our strong push since then, we’d likely not opened up a big enough gap.
I’d been taking splits leaving each aid-station all day, keeping track of the distance from aid to aid, to carefully ration water and calories. From Wagner Butte aid, I took a split and watched the one piece of data I had displayed on my watch (since HR crapped out at mile 34) which was Lap Distance. 1mi. 2mi. 2.3mi… 2.8… Boom—3.0, and there’s the ribbon signaling the left turn up to Wagner Butte and the second flag pin of the race.
At this point, I knew I was going to see some competition on the way back down from Wagner Butte Summit. The question was, how much of a gap had we created from Dutchman? Uphill over technical terrain to the summit we went. Once on top, we both searching around in the darkness with our headlamps flashing here and there. No flagpins. WTF Hal?!? Then I remember Squaw Peak. Look up. OMG, another elevated structure up there, atop these huge, sharp boulders. Louis starts up. “I’ll get it,” he says. I’m like, “I’m the runner, I’m coming along too.” I throw my hand-helds down right under a reflectorized race ribbon so I can easily find them later. Hand over hand I follow Louis up to the top. “What color do you want?” “What colors do they have?” We take a moment to enjoy the view of the city of Medford, lit up like Christmas to the north. I hoot-n-holler some more and we decide we need to take it easy coming off the rocks and back down the 1.7mi to the main trail so neither one of us breaks his neck. Once down I grab my bottles and take a split.
Smooth and steady. Run quickly when we can. Distance and time. Distance and time. Bam, there’s Becky. 0.7mi. So, we’ve got 1.4mi on her and she needs to climb up and down the mass of boulders for the pin. Pacerless, she steps aside to let us run through. We tell her to be careful on the rocks. She agrees. I yell back to suggest she should stay up on top for a while and enjoy the scenery. No reply. I tell Louis I don’t think she appreciates my humor. He’s not laughing either. We settle back into the task…
The 3mi after the out-n-back is pure murder on the knees and ankles. Hal told us he believes the only time this stretch actually gets any action is during Pine to Palm. Louis said while we were running down this technical, steep, and switch-backy descent, “This is insult to injury” [for the participants]. As we’re getting toward the end of this section we see a bunch of young dudes hiking up toward us. One cheers, “We’re aid-station 2060!!” I’m thinking to myself, “If you guys are Road 2060 aid-station, who the h*ll’s manning aid-station 2060?” Turns out, one of the guy’s mom was manning the station, alone. Poor lady. As she was helping me mix up a bottle of water/broth she was talking about killing her son when he returned. Louis and I eased on down the road… 10mi to go…
Somewhere in there, I stopped to pee. My headlamp happened to light up my urine stream and I found it oddly colored, like cranberry juice. “Hey, Louis, I’m peeing blood.” We got running again. Silence. “So,” Louis said, “Has this happened before?” “Umm, yeah, after a hard 50k in the Marin Headlands last fall.” [I'd taken ibuproven before the race]. “What do you want to do?” “Just stay steady.” I sure didn’t want to mess myself up but I still wanted to finish this race strong. Body seems okay otherwise. A little discomfort from my kidneys on both sides but nothing painful. Easy does it. Keep the calories and water/broth coming in. Steady energy input… Steady energy output…
Louis lets me know when it’s 4mi to go and I try to show some backbone. We we averaging between 7:30 and 8:00/mi pace up ’til that point. I suddenly get it in my head that we’re going to make a strong push to the finish. Now we’re running in the 6:00/mi range down smooth fire road, booking it pretty good. Louis is rocking it right by my side. A quarter mile later we’re back to 7:30pace. It was fun while it lasted…
This rolling, pain-in-the-@$$ mountain-bike section comes up and Louis says, “This trail sucks.” I whole heartedly agree with him. The trail’s anything but smooth and I’ve got no idea how I haven’t kissed the dirt yet. Thankfully—or not so much— we hit the super steep black-top and begin the final mile (death march) toward the finish line in Ashland. A couple 100yds down Louis spies a ribbon off to the right. I run over and study this “trail.” There’s another ribbon. It looks like some local riff-raff messed with the course-markings. There’s a big pile of green waste in the center of the trail. Louis runs down the road to try and find more ribbon. I’m thinking to myself, “this doesn’t look right. I thought we run down this steep, paved road to the finish. I know we do.” I start making my way down to Louis, when I hear him call up, “Here’s a ribbon. This is right.” I take a look uphill and see if I can spy a first-place female descending without her headlamp on. I catch up with Louis and a truck goes by us. It’s Hal, out spray-painting arrows on the course to the finish. We tell him about the riff-raffed ribbon. He gives us directions to the finish. We’re confused. He offers to drive us in, speed up enough to stop, open up his door, leans out, freshens up a spray-painted arrow from yesteryear’s Pine to Palm, and gets moving again before we catch up to him. Especially nice to see the inflatable arch and lots of folks hangin’ out at the finish.
It sucked not having Amanda at the finish but I was in good hands having friends to keep an eye on me. This was the first 100 in which I didn’t vomit, during or immediately after. So that was nice, ’cause I got to enjoy the company of all the folks at the finish. Louis’ wife Linn let me use her phone to [eventually] call Amanda (it was a team effort to remember my wife’s phone #). Craig Thornley, aka: Mr. Western States, aka: Mr. UltraLive.Net, aka: Joe, was hanging out and I suggested, in my post-100mi euphoria that because I’d purchased 100 tickets for the last WS raffle—and didn’t win—I should at least get a Western States refrigerator magnet. I don’t think he was amused. Soon thereafter, an exhausted Melanie Michalak appeared and we started on the idea of transported my old bones over to their hotel, as per the master plan. I felt like a helpless 4y/o with my mom. “Umm, I’m cold.” “Can I take a piece of pizza with us?” Meanwhile, Becky Kirschenmann was back in the kitchen talking with folks about the day, looking really no worse for wear. l told Nate Dunn, who was in the cot next to mine. “I think she’s the terminator. I kept looking back expecting to see red eyes in the darkness.” At the end of the day, she finished up only about 30min back, shaving over 2hrs off her own Pine to Palm course-record. I’m confident that even if a handful of the most recognized female ultrarunners showed up and ran this course, they’d have a tough time besting Becky’s record. She’s set the bar high (and again, without a pacer).
I’d love to come back and do this one again. In the event I get into Western States 2015, it’s nice to have a point-to-point 100mile event in the books. All things considered it was a really amazing race, and even a week later, continues to dwell in my consciousness. It was special indeed to have every step taken all day be on a course on which I’d never stepped foot. And like all prior 100s, there were challenges to overcome and awesome friends with whom to celebrate the good times. Thanks to Hal, and his Pine to Palm crew for doing a bang-up job on race-day. And thanks for marking that course so well. Thanks to Mel and Chris for all the logistical team-work and full-on crewing/hand-holding/shuttling etc. And congrats Chris on slaying the P2P beast!! Looking forward to seeing what you two do at Javelina. Your best 100s are in front of you both. Thanks to Louis and Linn Secreto for huge support out there. Amanda was right (again) that I would’ve been screwed without a pacer. Thanks to Becky for keeping me honest and making me work my @$$ off from Wagner Butte to the finish. And big thanks to my wife, Amanda for giving me a pass to go do this. Your love and support is so appreciated. :D
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” -Muhammad Ali“The water is clearer than the air, and the air is the air that angels breathe.” – See more at: http://greatworldgetaways.com/californias-lake-tahoe-the-air-is-the-air-that-angels-breathe#sthash.pJlPdPgf.dpuf“The water is clearer than the air, and the air is the air that angels breathe.” – See more at: http://greatworldgetaways.com/californias-lake-tahoe-the-air-is-the-air-that-angels-breathe#sthash.pJlPdPgf.dpuf
Back in the ring, to take another swing at the indomitable Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Trying to squeeze just a little more out this glorious event, in hopes of snagging the course-record that evaded me in 2013 due to a too conservative first half and excessive afternoon heat. With Einstein’s definition of insanity in the back of my mind, I duplicated—and beefed up—last year’s TRT June prep, logging over 500mi and 100,000′ of vertical, including a nice 50mi run at the TRT Training Runs. Wanting to bullet-proof my mission, I started off my June build with a 190mi/40,000′ week. And I have to say I thought about that week during the race, quite a bit—it provided a great deal of confidence.
Like 2013, I geeked out on some spreadsheet scenarios, which would give my race some structure. Because the course-record was 17:47, I wanted to give myself some cushion, so I finally settled on a target race time of 17:20. After running the 50mi course during the training runs in June in about 8:30, I figured running the first half, on fresh, race-day legs, in about 8:10, seemed pretty reasonable (as long as I was at 140 beats/minute, +/- two beats). I also estimated that if I could run about 8:10 over the first loop, then I’d plan on the inevitable slowing to be no more than 12-15% over the second half.
I definitely felt the target on my back as defending champ, and it was tough not gunning it from the start. Still, I went from a first mile at 120bpm last year to an opening mile at 140bpm this year, thus establishing an early rise to an average HR of 140. By the time a small group of us arrived at Tunnel Creek (mile 12.7) I’d put down about 700cal in CLIF Bar bites that I’d rolled up and packed in a zip-loc bag. I figured it was a good idea to lay a foundation of calories, early in the going when the temps were low, the pace easy, and the stomach functioning properly. All of us bounded down into Red House, myself clocking my fastest mile of the day at 6:10. Easy does it…
Two-time Pine-to-Palm 100 winner, Gerad Dean and I, were the first to emerge from the 6.3mi Red House lollipop. As I grabbed some fuel from my drop-bag, Gerad had already weighed in and shot north toward the Bull Wheel aid-station. I moved with purpose, across the timing-chip mats after him. Following in his shoe-prints in the sandy single-track, I arrived at the Bull Wheel aid-station even before the water did. Asking repeatedly for some H2O, one of the volunteers sacrificed his own agua from his personal bottle into my hand-held (I’ll hope to pay this favor forward someday) and I continued north on one of my favorite stretches of the event—up toward the turn onto the Tyrolian downhill, a local favorite of mountain-bikers, whips and winds down and down (and down) to Diamond Peak Ski Resort, where I’d see my wife, Amanda, for the first time of the day—and catch up to Gerad.
Amanda had me out of aid in a minute flat and Gerad and I spent the next 30 working together and occasionally chatting whilst we were still relatively fresh and the going was easy. We knew we’d opened up a nice gap and now, back on top of Diamond Peak at the Bull Wheel aid-station, we were happy to find the water had now arrived. Fill ‘er up! >>>
There’s nothing better than having a “home-court” advantage, and having run this race three times prior, I felt entirely comfortable bookin’ it back to Tunnel Creek while being sure to keep one eye on my trusty HRM. Metronomic cadence, breathing, focus. Just a cruise back down south to the half as the day was heating up.
I came into the half in around 8:10, right around 9:45/mi pace. I’d gained back some good time on the switch-backy descent from Snow Valley Peak. This was a pretty quick first half as compared to 2013’s 8:28. Average HR was 141bpm, as compared to last year’s 139bpm. As I was coming into the half aid-station, I referred to a scenario chart I’d laminated to the back of my salt-tab’s coin purse. Since my target race-time was 17:20, I would now have to run no less than 11:00/mi pace for the second half in order to hit my finish-time target. I was pleased when I flipped over to Virtual Pacer on my fresh Garmin and saw that I had plugged in exactly 11:00/mi pace the day before, knowing instinctively that would probably be the pace I’d have to run. Now, all I had to do was run it…
Leaving the 50, I asked Amanda if she had any idea where guys were behind. Since there was a new timing system in place, I figured she might have some info from Snow Valley aid, but coverage is spotty at Spooner (even with race direction’s best efforts to improve it) so she didn’t have any info for me. No worries…
Leaving my HRM strap behind, it was time to “embrace the suck” and knock out this second 50. I had two bottles of ice-water and knew I’d run out on the way up to Hobart aid, some 7mi north, a lot of which is uphill. A couple of miles later I tripped and fell. I was beginning to feel that 8:10 first half. My feet weren’t coming off the ground like the were hours earlier. I reminded myself how we get muddy water clear—by doing nothing. Slow it down Shebest. Get back into your comfort zone. Clear like Lake Tahoe. Let go of the performance goals and get present. It’s okay to walk. Finally, it flattened out, and I found myself at Hobart. Whew, rough stretch.
Out of Hobart, some miles down-trail, I crashed hard, bloodying both my palms and my right knee in the process. I popped back up and quickly regained my rhythm, surveying what was only minor scrapes and scratches on a now bloody, sweaty, dirty body. Black shorts are great to wipe the blood away, and the memory. Today, I planned on three things happening that I’d not anticipated. Two of them came in the form of falls. The first one was pretty minor. This second one took the wind out of my sails for a bit. Rhythm. Rhythm. Rhythm. Let it go.
Back down into to Red House loop for the second time of the day. I noticed the temps were going in the opposite direction I expected—DOWN! Compared to all three of my previous second-half race experiences down in Red House, this one was the most mild. Temps and revamped nutrition helped keep the belly happy. But 60mi is 60mi and the going was getting tough. I’d read a couple books on U.S. Navy SEALs coming into this race in hopes of picking up some good mental coping strategies.
Having been a Navy Diver myself, I find great inspiration from our SEALs and the tremendous mental strength these guys have to make it through the grueling six months BUD/S training, including the infamous “Hell Week.” Anyway, I picked up a mantra that SEAL candidates sometimes use in school when in an “evolution” and forced to “embrace the suck.” They say to themselves, “Feelin’ good. Lookin’ good. Oughta be in Hollywood.” So, anytime I found myself in the suck on Saturday, I just busted out that gem, and imagined my SEAL brothers in the sh*t in some foreign country, getting shot at, and generally enduring a reality much more demanding than mine, at an ultra-running event in beautiful Lake Tahoe. “Don’t be a cupcake,” a running buddy, Leigh Schmitt, once said to me.
Once I got back to the stick of the lollipop of the Red House loop, there was a first-aid guy on a mountain bike. I’d worked pretty hard getting back to this point in hopes of seeing just who was behind me. The first-aid guy informed me, “You got the whole loop to yourself, nobody has come down yet.” Music to my ears. I proceeded up and soon found Mark Austin, of Boise, descending. I asked him if he was #2 and he said, “I am now!”, which meant he’d caught up with Gerad, whereabouts unknown.
Polishing off Red House and arriving back on top of the ridge, Gerad was sitting next to weigh-ins dealing with the “Hell” part of the TRT motto. I told him I’d been in exactly the same place my first time out at TRT and told him to hang in there. I’m psyched for him—and impressed—he did. I was off, up the long stretch, past Bull Wheel and up to the turn onto the Tyrolian Downhill. This stretch took forever. “Feelin’ good. Lookin’ good…” >>>
As I arrived into the Diamond Peak parking lot and looked up onto the first landing there at the lodge, I didn’t see a soul. I was feeling pretty vulnerable as I made the turn, unsure I’d see my people. “Please be there…” Boom, there was Amanda, who’s eyes got as big as saucers when she saw me rounding the corner. It was awesome to have my rock-star Inside Trail Racing team-mates, Chris Wehan (with his Western-States-running-girlfriend, Melanie Michalak) and Luke Garten, there for support. These fun-loving young guns inspire me.
After a quick weigh-in and bottle swap with Amanda, Chris and I were off to tackle the final 20mi of the race, starting with the 2000′ climb out of Diamond Peak, with Luke running alongside us on our way out, reminding us we were on record-breaking pace. We had about 3:45 to run the final 20mi to be under the course-record of 17:47. I said I’d do my best. I knew there would be no guarantees, but I also knew I’d been in this same place three times before, but this time was unique—I’d never been at this point as early as I was now. “Feelin’ good. Lookin’ good…” >>>
Chris immediately set the precedent that negative talk was not an option, so after getting out of Diamond Peak we just settled into the work of getting up the climb. Running into Myles Smythe, from Michigan Bluff Photography, definitely added some fun to the otherwise dismal prospect of climbing a godd*mn ski slope with 80mi in your legs. He shot some film and I tried to look less like a zombie and more like a bad*ss mountain runner. Umm, right…
Running this event three times prior, I’d never experienced this relentless pressure to keep my foot on this pedal of madness. All for what?! Was it even worth it? Hell, I’m 40. WTH business do I have trying to break course-records? As I arrived to the top of Diamond Peak I was a full 30min behind my Virtual Pacer, who was running his murderous 11:00/mi pace. Earlier, when I arrived at DP aid-station, the Tyrolian Downhill helped me get all my time back but I knew I’d need every minute I could get, since the DP climb essentially puts a bear on your back, slowing the average pace down considerably. Now on top, it was time to get some time back, to recall what I’d done a year earlier, to run my race, and work with Chris to just stay steady and keep some calories comin’ in. Easier said than done, right?!
The first 10 of 20mi to the finish were still in the light and it was way cool to get all the way down to Hobart aid-station with some light still in the sky. We lit our torches and headed out of Hobart.
I probably should have just stuck with what worked all day but I started taking soda at mi80 and then hit the Coke at aid-stations from there. Stomach wasn’t havin’ it. And as Chris caught up to me just out of Hobart, he found me bent over, retching in the bushes. Everything came up. And here it was, the third unknown of the day. Deal with it. Don’t be a cupcake. I remembered an athlete I coached to Western States this year, Todd Bertolone. He had more than is his share of nausea and vomiting at States. I thought of him, and got my *ss moving again. Todd had his goals at Western, and met them. “Feelin’ good. Lookin’ good…”
Man-oh-man, that last ten was not what I envisioned. I’d mindfully built in a 27min cushion in high hopes that I wouldn’t need it, but d*mn the man, it was looking like I’d need every last minute. And now, Einstein’s relativity was working against me; time was slowing way down, the next aid-station, an almost hopeless eternity away. Chris helped me claw my way up to Snow Valley Peak, the highest point on the course at 9000′. I was now 32min behind my Virtual Pacer. I knew the course-record was still within reach, since it’s a long way down from Snow Valley, and downhill running is my thing. At this point in the going, my climbing legs were sh*t, as was my aerobic system; my glycogen matches long struck out. At Snow Valley aid, I grabbed a cup of chicken broth, and that alone is what fueled the final stretch home. I found myself wishing I’d put chicken broth in my hand-held. Warm. Nourishing…
What a pacer I found in Chris Wehan, 2013 Rio del Lago 100mi champ. In 2013, before I knew him, we duked it out at Lake Sonoma 50, where he eventually dropped me with some 10mi to go in the race. Later, we became Inside Trail Racing team-mates and I got to know him a little better. I’ve been so impressed with his athletic prowess as an Ironman triathlete turned ultra-runner. I’m super grateful it worked out with his work schedule that he could come up and pace. He did his homework on the race, had the splits written out on his arm, poured on the positive reinforcement, and worked tirelessly getting me to the finish. I ate it up. This was one guy I did not want to let down!
In full-on zombie mode, we made the right turn over to Spooner Summit. Lighting up the trails along the lake, we ran into Luke Garten, who had run a mile back to greet us. He shouted, “You have 16min to run one mile and you’ll break the course-record!!” Elation. All I said was “F#%k YES!”
It’s funny how all the grand, booming finish-lines I’ve experienced at big marathons and Ironmans seemed to pale in comparison to this modest, little finish-line next to a quiet lake, under the cover of darkness, with only Amanda and a few friends to share in the moment. It was this imagined snapshot in time, over those final miles, that created the desire to keep on moving forward until the deed was done. Pain is temporary. Pride… is forever.
Over the moon to have reached my goal, I was happy to be back with my Amanda, who had done such a wonderful job crewing me all day. Also grateful that she had some company while I was out there bumpin’ around in the forest. Chris, Melanie, and Luke made the experience that much more exciting and fun. When you have folks in your corner, it makes it a lot easier to stay in the fight and keep swinging. Also exciting was to later learn both athletes I’d coached to TRT100, Tina Borcherding and Eric Litvin, both braving thunderous lightning storms, reached the finish line as well. This was Tina’s first 100mi run. Inspiring performances from these two.
Want to bullet-proof your next ultra? Run in shoes from Hoka One One. My Stinson EVO’s have allowed me to run more training miles than I ever have in my life. In both my victories in 2013 and 2014, I’ve been so grateful to run all day with zero foot problems. The proof is in the pudding.
If you’re looking for an absolutely wonderful ultra-running experience, that gets better every year, TRT Endurance Runs has one of the best events in the country. Outside Magazine puts TRT Endurance Runs on their Trail Runner’s Bucket List. My advice would be to do the 50mi as a stepping stone to the 100, especially if you’re unsure how you perform at higher elevations. So, put your name in the lottery this year. You can’t win if you don’t play!
Since Amanda and I were spending the next week in Tahoe anyway, we headed back up to the scene of the crime on Monday morning, to spend a few hours helping to break down the finish at Spooner. Somehow, RD, George Ruiz, was still upright and in good spirits. Spending the morning with a few volunteers, in the muddy aftermath, was a perfect way to end this chapter in my athletic career. Thanks for all the memories!!
Ahhh… back at sea-level now, decompressing from this weekend’s adventures at the TRT Training Runs. Inspired by Matt Fitzgerald’s book, Brain Training for Runners, I continue to build on last year’s TRT100 preparation. In Brain Training, Fitzgerald writes about the essential nature of doing in training—as close as possible to—what you’d like to do on race-day. Okay, so he only offers training up to the marathon-distance, but I’m adapting it a bit for my own intents and purposes. It’s my working hypothesis that, for me, there’s great value in covering the 50mi course at the basic intensity at which I’d like to work on game-day, with the same race process (gear, food, hydration, etc.). Having this experience fresh in my “brain” as well as my body—assuming I absorb all this nonsensical training, I’m hopeful I’ll be able to execute the way I’d like. We’ll see…
Last year at the same training runs, I’d done about 43mi on Sunday, choosing to exclude the infamous 6.2mi Red House loop and keep the day more manageable. This time around I simply threw in Red House for good measure. With the 2013 ultra-running season, as well the 2014 spring race season under my belt, I was excited to cap off my week with these runs up on the course I’ll be racing on on July 19th, confident I could “get away with it,” without significant injury risk. I’ll be honest, these last two weeks I’ve been more than stretching myself in order to create the opportunity to see exactly how fast, i.e., how efficiently, I can cover the entire 100 miles come July. Tahoe gods willing…
The above was my loosely-laid plan to follow up on last week’s 190mi training week with 40,000′ of gain. Initially, I was hoping to hit 150mi, but I had to go with my gut and ensure I trimmed the fat in order to preserve health. Monday became a rest day and I took advantage of that by using one of the massages my wife, Amanda, got me for my 40th birthday. The massage therapist wasn’t exactly impressed with what I’ve been doing to my body, imploring that I must return to many follow up visits! Thus, it was a fine way to start the week. Then, slowly easing into it with two active recovery runs (to see if the body was going to allow me to continue running).
To address the issue of diminishing leg-speed with all the Zone 2 training I’ve been doing, I added a 100mi-specific tempo run to the mix on Wednesday, again listening to the body, waiting for it to give me the “green-light” to work harder. It took a full 1.5hrs on Wednesday’s run at Lake Sonoma for that to happen. A cool motivator was doing the tempo from Wulfow aid-station on the Lake Sonoma 50mi course back to the finish line. Considering what I had in my legs from the previous ten days, I had to be happy with a sub-9min/mi pace for those 17mi. I’m hopeful that this Wednesday, I’ll see that pace improve a bit, at about the same intensity.
Preceding Sunday’s 50mi training run, I was pleased to make good time to Diamond Peak on Saturday, arriving there at about 2pm. I’d wanted to stash some water for Sunday and do the big ski-slope climb there a couple of times. Out of the car, I slowly made my way up to the top. I descended back down, had a breather and a gel, and did another ascent at about—what I felt was—my 5k race intensity. Just dying on the last bit that really pitches up, I arrived at Bullwheel having averaged only 13:09/mi for a bit over 26min of work (hey, it’s a ski-slope!). This little bit of intensity, coupled with Wednesday’s tempo, put me in an appropriate fatigued state, to run on Sunday. After all, running on tired legs is what running 100mi is all about, right? The reward for that “all-out” effort up Diamond Peak? Some solid active-recovery running from Bullwheel over to the Tyrolean Downhill, back to my car. An efficient 15mi effort with 4000′ of gain. And I got my water stashed!
Yeah so, pleased that the body is somehow holding up (knock on wood) and I was able to hit almost 150mi w/ just about 30,000′ of elevation gain for the week. The key, for me, surely, was having those training runs on the weekend to look forward to, since my motivation does wane in the midst of this once-a-year, insane, 3-week training block. Now, just one more week to go until a joyous recovery week!
Strava’s June Monthly Training Series (MTS) continues (for only one more week for this old man). As I stated in my last post, I use the MTS only as a motivating tool, being cautious of the very real tendency of mine to do too much (understatement, yes, I realize that). Still, I like the challenge the MTS presents and getting to follow—and sometimes chat—with other like-legged runners from around the globe. Hey, normally when I participate in any other month’s MTS—if I actually check—I’m in 3,567th position, or thereabouts. Like I’ve said, we want Strava to work for us, not the other way around. Know thyself and above all else, keep it fun! :D
A HUGE thanks to George Ruiz and his awesome crew for again hosting the fantastic TRT Training Runs. The volunteers at the aid-stations and the finish are enthusiastic all-stars! ALL I could think about those last, long 4mi, as I descended from Snow Valley Summit back to Spooner, was the promise of hamburgers and beer at the finish. And within minutes of stopping my Garmin, that’s just what I had. Maybe THIS should be my nutrition plan on race-day…
“Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” ― John L. Parker Jr.
In John L. Parker’s book, Once a Runner, the protagonist, Quentin Cassidy, first breaks the 4-min mile at the track, by himself, after sunset. No fanfare, just moving passed an imaginary line in the sand without thinking too much about it. I’ve always remembered that in order for the magic to be there on race-day, you’ve got to put in the work. And if you aspire to go beyond what you’ve done in the past, eventually, you’re going to have to start doing things that my be considered, say, a little unorthodox. One thing’s for sure though, we get out of this running thing just what we’ve put in. No shortcuts. How hard you throw yourself into your training must largely determine how high you peak come race-day.
2014 marks my fourth start at what has become my hands-down favorite race of all time—the Tahoe Rim Trail 100mi Endurance Run. Never have I been more challenged and in awe of an event. And no other distance to date, captures my imagination like the running 100mi, inside such a stunning venue as Lake Tahoe.
Albert Einstein famously stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.” Every time I’ve done TRT I’ve gotten a little better at it. God knows I have an intimate appreciation of the race’s motto: A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell. I know, as I stand before it once more, that I must, indeed, be getting to a point of diminishing returns. But, there’s a fire inside that burns to improve over what I was able to do, just last year, on the hottest day the race has ever seen. So, with evolved training and race process, I’m looking to do in training, what’s necessary to shave another 30-60min off my best. No Challenge. No Change.
Anticipation being the heart of wisdom, I’m essentially duplicating what worked so well from 2013, just beefing it up a bit so that I can expect different—and hopefully improved—results. The body, being like a sponge, should be relatively “dry” coming into a big block of 100mi run training, so that it has a chance to really soak up the volume. Here’s what I did for the last two weeks of May, immediately following Silver State 50miler in Reno (a highly specific event for TRT 100 in July):
With no real structured training since Jan/Feb, I rolled into the spring with two 7-hour, top-finishes at both Marin Ultra Challenge and Lake Sonoma, just the 3-4% gains I was targeting over last year’s 50-mile race times. Then, life intervened, and sadly, I had to make an unexpected trip back East for my father’s funeral. This, indeed, took the wind out of my sails. With poor motivation, I contemplated not doing Silver State, but rallied and did a hilly, hard 50k at Armstrong Redwoods, two weeks out from Silver State and did not feel great. The one event wasn’t enough to replace two weeks of quality training. Insufficient prep, coupled with experimenting with different fuels and gear, resulted in going from running myself into 1st at mile 27 to getting run down by two better runners that day, for a disappointing 3rd place finish, a full hour slower than my 2013 time. Whatever, I still had a great experience (mostly after the race that is!).
Silver State was, actually, just the reality check I needed coming into my June build-up to Tahoe Rim. To be certain, running a 100 miles is not child’s play by any stretch of the imagination. My respect for the distance was reaffirmed. I used the final two weeks of May to not only recover, but finish my school year, enjoy my students and the relationships cultivated over an entire school year, and generally “dry out my sponge” out for the incipient June training.
Here’s the plan for Week I (I was tweaking it since January!):
My strategy last year was come into June fresh and do my biggest week first. Last year, I’d just starting using Hoka One One’s Stinson EVO trail shoe and was delighted to discover I possessed (it seemed) some kind of super power in these shoes, namely the ability to recover quickly and put up 150mi with over 30,000′ of gain, and back it up with two more weeks of balanced run training, both over 100mi. So, in Einsteinian fashion, I had to make the plan a bit more robust this year, shooting for a 180mi week with about 35,000′ of elevation gain. With a “go-til-you-blow” mind-set, I just threw myself into it. Here’s what I was able to (somehow) do last week:
As you can see I clearly employ the “Hard-Day/Easy-Day” approach. Hard days defined as developing the muscular endurance needed to not simply run 100mi, but also attending to the desire to be generating a reasonable amount of power over the second half of the event. Recall that the ultra-running contest doesn’t go to the fastest, it goes to the one that slows down the least.
Strava adds another layer of motivation to the week, that if existed a decade ago, would have ensured I was constantly injured. Last year, new to Strava, I participated in their “Junedoggle,” a monthly training series that informally pits ultra-runners from around the world against each other by seeing who can rack up the most run volume in a month. Game on!! I think some folks on there don’t actually race anymore! Sometimes looks to me they just put up big miles to try and stay on top of the MTS (Monthly Training Series). It’s damn addictive, I’ll admit. But, I’m planning to stick with it for two more weeks then drop so I can do a proper recovery week, just as I did last year. My advice for folks using Strava as a motivational tool, is that to remember that’s just what it is—a tool. Make Strava work for you, not the other way around. I thoroughly enjoy it and am aware of the potential pitfalls, related exclusively to my ego.
If you’re going to sign up for a 100mi run, you’re best served by choosing your battle carefully. You want to pick one that inspires you; that alone will fuel your fire in training. In my case, I keep going back to TRT100 not just because it’s such a great event, but also because it’s just a good fit for me as a teacher. I can take full advantage of the month of June, being now out of the classroom, to do the required work that will allow me to see my potential on race-day. For Western States, in the event I ever got in, would present significant challenges, balancing my primary life roles as husband, teacher, coach, and athlete.
I’m fortunate to have both Lake Sonoma 50 and North Face Endurance Challenge in my “backyard,” both events having that star-studded field that really lets me see where I stack up against the best in the sport. With a top-10 finish at Lake Sonoma this April, and the fact that the longer the race, the better I do, I know that given different life circumstances, I could likely top-10 at Western States. But personally, I have all that I need—a beauty of a course in Tahoe, in July, that affords me the ability to test my mettle, against others, but more to the point—against my former self. And, the fact I’m living another athletic life as an ultra-runner is not lost on me. Before ultra-running there was Ironman Triathlon, and the Western States of triathlon is the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Kona, Hawaii. And having been lucky enough to qualify, go, and finish strong on four occasions, I don’t want the fact I haven’t done Western States feel like some failure. If it happens it happens. I’m just happy to be still improving—at some athletic pursuit—at the ripe young age of 40.
So, in conclusion, here’s a few things I learned last week, running 190mi w/ 40,000′ of elevation gain, a few runs being in some pretty high temps:
1. Hydration is no joke. Taking in adequate water before, during, and after sessions is HUGE and not to be discounted. You’ll recover for the next session way faster if you stay up on your H2O.
1A. In excessive heat, you gotta keep yourself wet. Evaporative cooling is your best friend when you’re dealing with infernal race conditions.
2. HOKAS are the bomb. I rotated three newer pair of Stinson EVO trail shoes all week. They take the abuse so my body takes less. Again, it’s ALL about the recovery!
3. Allow your training/racing process to evolve. This week taught me that experimenting with different gear combinations is essential so that things can be both simple and sustainable on event day.
4. Sleep fixes all. Now that I’m out of school, I can wake without an alarm clock. If you want to boldly go where you haven’t gone in the past with your training, I highly recommend you create a context in which you have the time to get the sleep your body needs, understanding that your body will innately sleep more when the training volume is high. That of course is a directly proportional relationship.
5. Being psyched to do the week is key. I purposefully set up my year so that I’d be far removed from any structured training, come June, so that I wouldn’t find myself struggling to get out the door come Saturday, already with 100mi in my legs for the week. By the time this week started, for example, I hadn’t been up to Lake Sonoma—one of my bread-n-butter training runs—since the race there on April 12th.
6. Having a variety of training venues keeps the fire burning. For Tahoe Rim Trail 100, I’m looking for runs that set me up for success, namely runs that have a lot of elevation gain. I also like loop training run courses. At Lake Sonoma and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, for example, I can do 20-26mi courses and bank 5-7k feet in vertical. Plus, they’re both beautiful courses, that I don’t seem to get tired of doing. I believe it’s their challenging, majestic (by Sonoma County standards) nature that keeps me coming back.
7. Finally, I learned that the passion for improvement is still there. And at 40 years of age, my capacity to enjoy and absorb the work, I feel is necessary to improve, is still there. I’m especially grateful to have this opportunity and all-too-aware that, inevitably I’ll start down the other side of the mountain, but having the knowledge that I made full use of my time and did, with my modest gifts, all that I could, without fear, and full of passion.
Let’s see what Week II has in store for me. Looking forward to this weekend’s training runs on the course. Looking forward not to just running on the course, but seeing lots of friends out there too. Always a good time. :D
Greetings from 10,000′ (or thereabouts). Making my way back to Pennsylvania for a funeral this week. Didn’t start the day off well, missing my flight out of Oakland by two lousy minutes, which had me sitting around grading science tests for three hours hoping that I’d snag a seat on a connecting flight in Phoenix on the hot-standby list. If that TSA line just wasn’t so dang LONG checking in in OAK!! Or, if I hadn’t stopped at Starbucks on the way down. ERRGH!!
I made the 90min flight to PHX so it was back on hot-standby for me for a few more hours while the US Airways guy, Dave, juggled passengers around going to Pittsburgh. It was looking really good there, up to the absolute final moment, and boom, I’m not going anywhere. Stupid stand-by. Stuck in Phoenix?! Steve Miller Band’s “Keep on Rockin’ Me” annoyingly playing in the back of my head.
This day’s like a good ultra gone bad: I’m on-course, then miss a turn, then back on again, but behind. Then Super Dave, tapping away furiously on his keyboard while talking with 26.2 people at once asked me if I wanted to go to Boston, AND if I could run fast.
I had 2min to fly over to another gate (but didn’t have time to sync satellites on my Garmin, so no Strava upload, sadly). I think I had a good sub-6 pace going through the terminal, (kind of like trail-running, with all the bobbing and weaving). I even got some claps, compliments on my form, and a few “Go Runner!” cheers from limping, “Boston-Strong”-clad runners/new arrivals, just off the plane from the Boston Marathon. So that was pretty cool to have that additional support. Could’ve used some cow bell though…
Yeah, so about 800mi out from Boston now I am. Haven’t been there since crossing the finish-line in ’03, the same year I moved to CA. Did not have a good day (the slowest of my three Bostons). Some days are better than others. Like my grandmother used to say when I was pouting about something as a little kid, “Cheer up. Better days are coming.”
Amanda’s been home, at CTU Headquarters, tracking bags, making calls, booking hotel rooms, and generally doing what Chloe O’Brian from “24,” does for Jack Bauer, (when HE misses a flight by 2min). Sh*t Happens (saying coined by Forrest Gump, you’ll recall).
Flexibility, you may realize, is huge in our training and racing. In fact, it can be THE reason we’re successful or not. As in life, in the middle of a hard training week, or in the middle of a A-Pri event, we sometimes have to adjust our goals to best suit the day, we have to listen to our bodies and effectively deal with issues as they manifest themselves, inevitably, in one form or another.
With the help of our support teams we’re better able to maintain faith that things are going to work out, eventually. I saw a quote on Facebook when I was eating a $250 salad in the Phoenix airport today. It read, “Being positive won’t guarantee you’ll succeed. But being negative will guarantee you won’t.” When I first saw that this morning I dismissed it with a few choice words in my head, while knowing full well how true it is.
Maybe I can run around the tarmac tomorrow morning since I’m staying at the hotel at Logan International tonight. It’d be nice to capitalize on all this “Boston Strong” energy and get a workout up on Strava before catching my flight to Pittsburgh, where of course, I first qualified for the Boston Marathon, all the way back in the 20th century (circa 1999). Things are coming full circle (with a few tangents thrown in for good geometric measure) as I write this forming an arc over the US.
In conclusion, remember that flexibility is key, and remaining positive when under the gun of adversity may ultimately encourage stronger performances in the future. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. Probably made an angry, frustrated sailor, on the way to being skilled.
Also, trust that things are going to workout. In the middle of an Ironman, or an ultra-run, sh*t can look really bad. Listen to that inner athlete in your head, and not what your body’s telling you. The body will always want to quit. Trust things can turn around when/if you get present, take a mental inventory, point positive, and keep on gettin’ down the road, trail, or sky as the case may be.
Plus, always remember that the most challenging days always produce some funny stories we can share with our friends while at 10,000′ (or thereabouts).
Wow… Lake Sonoma. Man-o-man. This was my third go-round here and it was by far the most satisfying. The spring racing’s been fabulous and I brought some good health and fitness into April. After Marin Ultra Challenge in March, I licked my wounds and just worked on keeping my speed up for Sonoma by doing a few super-specific workouts, namely a few fun interval sessions like 3 x 4mi @ sub-50k effort, and then a week out from Sonoma, the Annadel Half-Marathon, just to try something new and see if I could bring some leg speed into this crazy fast 50. When things are going well you just have to roll with it, so with Marin and Annadel in the bank, I felt confident I could race like I wanted to at Sonoma, i.e., write the check my body could cash.
Sonoma County’s been my home and triathlon, cycling, and trail-running playground for the past 10 years. With the first 2+ miles of this race on my beloved Skaggs Springs Rd., I ran on the front and felt comfortably awesome being there. Right from the get-go, I found myself playing to my strengths—flying on the downs and the flats while keeping the perceived exertion in check. So on those Skaggs Springs rollers, gravity carried me up to the front, passed Rob and Sage and I found myself making the turn into the woods, in 2nd, behind Max, knowing full well, that as the trail started to pitch up, I’d start losing ground, but losing ground on my terms—holding back on the ups while picking up good momentum on the downs. Hey, it’s a race!! >>>
Last year, I entered the woods in about 20th and stayed there, so it seemed like a good idea to start the day well into the Top-10, and fight the whole race to stay there. Within a few miles, guys started to slip by on the ups as expected and I was having a blast running on my home turf, while catching fewer and fewer glimpses of Krar and Varner up ahead, slip, slip, slipping away from me. It was looking like the ol’ marine layer was in full effect, so I was grateful to have conditions that would encourage a personal best.
Up around Warm Springs Creek aid, two Nike guys in the form of Ryan Ghelfi and Dan Kraft went by, which put me back into 10th, though I wasn’t solid on my place at the time. I ran with those two for a bit, losing more on the ups than I was catching on the downs but staying within myself and thoroughly enjoying the glorious morning.
For Sonoma, I really wanted to better about consuming more calories over the second half so instead of just relying on gels, I thought mixing it up with some Shot Bloks would be a good idea. At the No Name Flat turn-around, I re-loaded with gels and Bloks. Soon thereafter I popped a few Bloks and something crunched hard in my mouth. WTF!?! I pulled the Blok out of my mouth and stuck to it was one of the crowns that was supposed to be attached to one of my back molars. Hmm, too bad. Keep running >>>
My target-finish time-range for Sonoma was 6:40 to 7:00. I’d hit the turn-around in about 3:13, which was about 7min faster than last year. So at that point I was still on a 6:40 trajectory. Before the race I’d set my Garmin’s Virtual Pacer to 8:11/mi pace, thinking that a 6:50 total race time was right smack in the middle of my target range.
By the time Wulfow aid finally came up again at mi33, I was getting tired but still determined to fight to the finish. I’d not looked at my watch up until this point. When I flipped over to the Virtual Pacer, I found that I was 4min up, still averaging less than 8:11/mi. That quickly passed, and so did Jacob Rydman. That put me back in 11th, though I still imagined myself running for that 10th spot. It ain’t over ’til it’s over. I told Jacob after the race he runs like a deer, as he does. He ate up quite a few guys on his trip back from the half-way. If he ends up running Pine to Palm in September, it’ll be interesting to see where we are relative to one another around mile 80.
The support out there was awesome. A lot of local yokals running, volunteering, and spectating. I got some shout-outs at the half and was psyched to see both an ITR team-mate and my Hoka rep at Wulfow going out and coming back. They both pumped me up as I was at that tough mi32 section of a 50-miler, when you are dying (at least I was), but have quite a bit of running left. Last thing I heard from them as I crested the climb and started running down the other side, was “You’re doing great!” and “We can’t see anyone coming up!”
Knowing these trails as well as I do is a mixed blessing. But once passed Wulfow on the return trip, I could start to smell the barn. And in many ways, it was beautiful running around the lake, over streams, splashing water on my head, almost like I was out there by myself, pretending as I sometimes do in training here, that it was race-day and I was fighting hard just to round out the top-10 with guys and gals closing in from behind >>>
And then, alas, there arrived the Warm Springs Creek aid-station and its awesome crew. Mile 38 baby. “Fill ‘er up!” I chugged a full bottle of water, then re-filled my bottle with Coke as I mustered the will to begin the 7mi trek down-trail, to the final aid-station at Island View.
Can’t say I remember much of this stretch from 38 to 45 but I know it’s the first time in the race, where I was more mindful of sights and sounds coming from behind. I had gotten away from Warm Springs aid without hearing any follow-up cheers or cowbells, indicative of the next runner coming in to the aid-station, so I knew I had room. Walking the uphills could not be an option. Everything had to be run, to avoid being caught, to maintain position, and to try and catch the next guy. On this stretch, I kept making the choice to be the predator and not the prey, and I never looked back. At least, until Island View.
Island view aid station takes you off the main trail, down a quarter mile to the aid-station, and then a quarter mile back up to the trail. It’s 4.5mi from Island View to the finish. At this point in the going, you just don’t really want to see anyone when you’re making your way back up to the main trail, ’cause it’s really going to light up the person chasing you. So, as I made my way back up and was just about ready to make the turn home, I see a runner bounding—literally bounding—down toward me. Smiling, he says, “Shebest! Are you ready to suffer?!!” To which I half-heartedly replied, “Uhh… Yeah man.” Sounds like a great idea…
At the end of several 50-milers over the last year, there’s been a curious phenomenon occurring known as the Thomas Sanchez Tractor Beam Effect. Powered by youth, it locks on to my soul and starts reeling me in toward it at the very end of 50s. I’ve only managed narrow escapes with it in the past. At last year’s Lake Sonoma, we came in 20th and 21st. At Dick Collins 50mi in October, Sanchez came roaring to the the line, just a minute back for 4th. And here we were again, both with equally improved fitness, and duking it out in the final 10% of the race. These are the guys I think about when I do hill repeats and tempo intervals.
I’m so at home now on these trails that on some level they comfort me while suffering to beat the band. Every twist and every turn, a familiar reminder I was one step closer to the finish. If he’s going to catch me, he’s going to have to out-work me. Run, cramp, walk, stumble, jog, power-hike, run, cramp, stretch, hobble, skip, jolt, veer, trip, hop, skitter. Push…
With 3.5 to go, I found a friend, Patrick McKenna, out on the trail sending runner updates back to iRunFar via satellite. As I stumbled passed, with a long switchback over to my left, I asked Patrick, “Can you see him?” Patrick said, “Yeah, but I think you have some room.” Those words gave some hope to the sad story that was the current condition of my body. Cramp, run, power-hike, stretch, run, cramp. Push, just a little bit more…
It’s been a while since a finish line felt so awesome. Seeing “7:02-something” was good enough for me even if it was a bit outside my target range. Whatever. I just wanted to know my place. I gave Amanda a big hug and gave and got some high-5’s and found out from Tropical John that I’d placed 10th. Relief. And then Gary Gellin came roaring to the line just a few minutes later.
Funny how the turn of events can pan out in our favor, or not. Had Sanchez not lit a fire under my ass with 4.5 to go, I would not have been inspired to push so hard to the finish and both guys would probably have eaten me up with a mile or two to go, since, in that context, they would have had the “psychological momentum” (a term I’ve borrowed from, author, Matt Fitzgerald).
I’ve always enjoyed throwing my hat in the ring with the big dogs to see where I stack up. That’s what kept pulling me back to Ironman Hawaii for over a decade, to race against the best out there, in really tough conditions. Lake Sonoma 50, with it’s relentless ups-n-downs and stiff competition, represents another opportunity to fine tune my racing process. Last year at Sonoma, Silver State, and North Face, all with comparable cumulative elevation profiles, I was going about 7:20, total race-time. In addition to getting more calories in during the second half, building in more speed and strength work early this year in training have helped shave off 15min (7:07 & 7:03, Marin Ultra Challenge and Lake Sonoma respectively). That’s about 3.5% improvement over 2013.
I tell athletes I coach that it’s only reasonable to expect around 3% performance gain from year to year, assuming the athlete’s been racing for a while. When you’re just starting out, the learning curve’s steep and you can chop off huge chunks of time early in the going. But once we get to that point of diminishing returns, things either have to evolve in training, or risk stagnation. Change is constant.
The 100mi distance remains my favorite and the one I naturally gravitate toward (like the Sanchez Tractor Beam). So it’s nice to see that 3% gain as I inch closer to summer and the century-runs to come in July and September. “Suffer better” is a term that’s being thrown around a lot lately. That’s a big objective right now—manage the suffering more effectively so I can run the backside of these 100’s well, when it’s more about the mind than the body. Anyway, it was just good fun to run off feel at Sonoma and believe I could hang on at the end. That hasn’t always been the case. Chasing—and being chased by—the best in the sport definitely brings out the best in us.
The Inside Trail Racing Team was out in full force with a handful of guys racing and placing, including Luke Garten, Gary Gellin, and Jonathan Gunderson. Chris Wehan, 2013 Rio del Lago 100mi champ, was out rocking the Wulfow Aid-Station with his girlfriend, Melanie. The support from ITR, the awesome aid-stations, all the volunteers and spectators, made it a race to remember. Could I shave another 3% off next year? Hmmm… Are you ready to suffer Sanchez!?! ;-)
Marin Ultra Challenge is one of those events that immediately captures the imagination. In 2013 it was held in June and I sadly couldn’t make it work with my schedule. When I heard Inside Trail Racing was moving the event to March, and it was still a full four weeks out from Lake Sonoma, I just had to be a part of the action, especially since I live just 60mi up the road.
Marin Ultra Challenge (MUC) epitomizes the essential beauty of our growing sport. Like the iconic Golden Gate Bridge itself, MUC represents a gateway into the increasingy vast realm of ultrarunning bliss, offering four unique race distances, each with all the spectacular scenery one finds running on the trails in the Marin Headlands, Mt. Tam, and Muir Woods. There’s no shortage of climbing and descending, with over 10,000′ of glorious ups-n-downs; definitely a job for the world’s best ultrarunning shoe:
A rising tide lifts all ships. In recent months, I’d experienced my best performances in the Marin Headlands, totally inspired by the efforts of my fellow ultrarunners. Two experiences, in particular, are Rob Krar’s brilliant performance at North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) in December, and Dave Mackey’s “Dirty Double”, where, within one week, he set a course-record at Quad Dipsea and immediately turned it around and ran stoic top-10 at NFEC. These masterful performances, having run along side both these guys in the early miles, pushed me to dwell deeply upon what was possible for myself at the 50mi distance, and beyond.
Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. As a teacher, an endurance sports coach, and an ultrarunner, I know that if I’m not learning I’m not growing—no challenge, no change, as they say. It’s exciting where a little curiousity will take us. And these days, with blogs, podcasts, and the like, information on how to improve is right at our fingertips (or earbuds). Seeing guys like Krar and Mackey do what they do is awe-inspiring and quickly leads to the obvious question? How are they doing it? Well, beyond innate talent, lies a lot of hard fought experience, dedication to smart and balanced training, and a tremendous amount of passion to keep improving.
Marin Ultra Challenge in March served a few key purposes: it gave me the opportunity to further dial in my 50mi race process before toeing the line at the insanely competitive Lake Sonoma 50 a month later. MUC in March also affords athletes the time to do a proper training build in Jan, culminating with a shorter distance race, say, three weeks out from MUC. I chose Inside Trail’s Chabot 50k, which serendipitously helped boost not only my racing endurance, but because Chabot’s a faster course—as compared to courses in the Marin Headlands—it really helped kick up my leg speed a notch or two. And these days, if you want to “rise with the tide,” you better be running fast often. Sink or swim. Fortunately for me, I don’t actually have to swim anymore. So nice. Soooo nice.
The big “test” for MUC was to add in a short, fast race just a week out from MUC, similar (but on a smaller scale) to what Mackey had done a week out from NFEC with his record-breaking Quad Dipsea. There happened to be a sweet, local 10mi trail run called the Ilsanjo Classic, just six days prior to MUC. I was more nervous for that than toeing the line at a 100-miler! I knew it was going to take me way out of my comfort zone (sink or swim). I ended up averaging a controlled 6:08/mi pace there, which I was hoping would allow me to run really quick on the downs and flats (was there any flat running?) at MUC.
Since January, I’d been sprinking in more intensity than I’ve ever done as an ultrarunner—two hill sessions and a tempo run on the road. That little hour of red-line running at Ilsanjo took the wind out of my sails through the following Thursday. Uh-oh, I thought all week. I was worried but just kept listening to my body, rested, cut runs short, took a complete rest day on Thursday, and on Friday I was pleased to find I’d come out the other side ready for a strong showing in Marin, by kicking it up to 4:20 pace for a tenth of a mile on Friday’s short shake-out run. Honestly though, I could have probably used another day or two of recovery. Or, was it perfectly timed??
It was great to see Gary Gellin out supporting on race-day, and have the opportunity to chat with him since he’s had a big influence on my race execution in ultras. Nobody wants to hear it, but we do inevitably slow in the second half of these long-@$$ events. Now, by how much, that’s where Gary offered me my big “A-HA” moment last year by sorting our Lake Sonoma results and displaying for all by how much we slowed in the second half of that race. I’d raced the second half like sh*t and slowed by some 18%. Sage Canaday won, while slowing by only 12% over the second half. Then and there I’d made it a priority to always “do my math homework” coming into races, providing myself with a few “first-half/second-half pacing scenarios.
Last year, the heart-rate monitor really helped me dial in a reasonable intensity over the first half of ultras so I could run stronger and slow less in the second half. It’s been challenging for me to pace effectively in the early miles of ultras, having so strongly conditioned myself to my higher intensity Ironman marathon RPE (rate perceived exertion). After ten years and some 20 Ironmans, you can imagine the re-programming I’ve had to tackle. This year though, I feel I’m finally dialed in, and my trustly heart-rate monitor’s come off. But, what a great tool to help you optimize your own ultrarunning pacing.
The night after Chabot 50k, I took a long look at the Marin Ultra Challenge elevation profile, and loosely established that 60% of the climbing’s in the first half. If I could summit Willow Camp and be around 7:50/mi average race pace, then I’d only have to hold around 9:30 pace to get under the existing course-record (8:45/mi pace). That would be around 10% slowing over the second half of the race. Ultimately, you can’t guarantee how things are going to pan out, but you can use previous race results to hypothesize what’s likely to occur, assuming the body’s cooperating, you stay on course, etc.
The 50mi and the 50k started together in the dark at 6am. My fully-charged Petzl NAO lit the way beautifully, up the short section of paved road to the first turn onto trail. There were two guys up, which was great, ’cause knowing my tendency to zone out in races and find myself off course, I was happy to have company navigating in the dark. But, they missed the first turn. I only made the turn because I’d done this section in another ITR event. Another runner and I yelled and got their attention, and I found myself leading, feeling great, and strangely confident I could keep myself on course ’til the sun came up.
One of favorite memories yet in ultrarunning came while making my way over to Rodeo Beach, running alone and averaging a comfortable 6min pace (a lot of downhill), then climbing up to Coastal Trail with the mighty Pacific Ocean glistening in the moonlight, and Ray Lamontagne’s Henry Nearly Killed Me, which I’d listened to three times in the car prior to race-start, goin’ good in my head. Smooth flow…
As I was dreamily bounding along, I missed a turn to stay on Coastal Trail, just passed Fort Cronkhite. Sh*t. Fortunately I caught my mistake pretty quickly and ran up to get back on the Coastal Trail heading up to the Tennessee Valley aid station.
You don’t have to be off course very long for runners who aren’t navigationally challenged to put some distance into you by the time you rejoin the caravan. One runner ahead turned into two, then three, four, and five! The most important thing during a little race snafu like this is to work mindfully to accept it as soon as possible, be present, get the heart-rate down, and minimize any further “damage.” Every time your brain starts dwelling on the setback, “change the channel” to something productive, that you actually now have control over. I thought of my Hoka teammate, Michael Wardian’s, comeback and victory at the recent Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. Note to self: that worked like a charm.
Within 20min or so I’d reclaimed the lead and started moving over the course as quickly and efficiently as possilble, taking in 300cal/hr from gels, and getting in an increasing amount of water. I’d set a time vibration alarm on my Garmin for 30min, reminding me to fuel, with the intention of changing the alarm around the 50k mark, to 20min, depending on what feedback I was getting from my body.
For the first half, I had two pieces of data available to me on my Garmin—race pace and race distance. I wanted to be hyper-aware of the 50mi/50k split at Heather Cutoff around mi16 and was grateful that it turned out to be so well marked. Then it was up Coast View to the Cardiac aid station and down the Dipsea to Stinson Beach for the most formidable climb of the day up Willow Camp, which I’d not had the pleasure of climbing before. Starting up Willow Camp my average pace was about 7:30/mi. I was pleased with that ’cause I knew I’d lose quite a bit on this bad boy. And by the time I summited, I was down to about a 8:06/mi average. I’d stayed in control, power-hiked here, ran what I could, and enjoyed the views overlooking Stinson.
I’d seen my Inside Trail team-mate, Chris Wehan, in Stinson Beach. He was out volunteering and having a good time. I asked him how far back the next guy was. He’d been following the action on UltraSportsLive.TV’s live feed. They’d given a bunch of the 50mi runners transponders so we could be tracked in real-time. Way cool. And I had a perfect little pocket for it on my vest too. Chris said that I had some good time on the next runner with a transponder. But, I was worried about runners, “flying under the radar,” who hadn’t been “chipped” at the start. Always race like the next guy’s two minutes up and the guy behind’s two minutes back. Keep plugging away…
With Willow Camp in the rear-view, the day was warming up. I’d had a few twinges in my right achilles earlier in the morning. I’d not had any problems with achilles this year so chalked it up to racing Ilsanjo and the fact I was running a 50-miler in the Headlands faster than I ever had before. Overall though, felt good. Chabot and Ilsanjo definitley seemed to be doing more good for me than ill.
Powered by gratitude, I cruised down Matt Davis Trail back to the Cardiac aid-station, I began dwelling on how much time/distance I’d lost being off course for a bit early on in the going. At the half, I switched over to my Garmin’s Virtual Pacer (VP), which I’d set for 8:45/mi (the existing course-record pace). I now was hovering around 10-13min ahead of my VP. That should be good, right? I finally made it to Cardiac and moved through as quickly and efficiently as I could. Two hundred yards passed Cardiac I realized I just forgot my drop-bag with the rest of my calories for the remaining 40% of the race. I had one gel left in my vest and a full bottle. Putting my metabolic efficiency to the test, I ran faster and ignored my Garmin’s vibration, telling me it was time to take calories. I was in ration mode, but relaxed and stepped on the gas, bounding down another fun section of trail.
Once I got back down to Muir Beach I was ready for some calories, for sure. No gels are permitted in the Headlands, so I loaded up on CLIF SHOT BLOKS and Coke. I actually ended up really liking the BLOKS for racing, especially in the second half of a race, since you can just keep popping these little guys in and let ‘em dissolve. So, disaster averted!
All the way back up to Tennessee Valley, I was doing my best to prepare myself for the final, big climb up Marincello. I’ve gone up this climb numerous times during races, and it never fails to test one’s mental fortitude. Armed with a quote I recently heard in the trailer for the new movie, Unbroken, [in theaters Dec. 25th] stating, “If you can take it, you can make it,” I arrived to Tennessee Valley and vowed to myself I would not walk any part of this climb. Now I wouldn’t exactly call what I did do up Marincello, “running” per se, but I was able to use the above mountain biker as a nice carrot to keep me motivated. You take what the trail gives you. It wasn’t easy, but I kept the cadence quick, the steps short, and crested that sucker, feeling spent but excited to wrap this race up (but with the curious desire for the experience to never end).
By the time I finally got myself up Marincello, I was only about nine or ten minutes up on my arch nemesis (my Garmin’s Virtual Pacer). In my head, at that moment, it seemed like it wouldn’t be good enough. Unbroken‘s Louis Zamperini’s quote had all-too-quickly deflated into the less inspired, “Fake it until you make it,” as the body really started protesting the now 6+ hours of toil. At this point in the game, the body’s in charge and we’re just leaning against our limits and hoping the ol’ wheels stay on to the finish. Cadence. Cadence. Cadence. Relax…
Alta and SCA trails revealed a not-too-distant yet out-of-reach national monument as I reminded myself to find my yoga breath and keep on keepin’ on. Another fellow Hoka One One athlete, in the form of Ken Michel, running the 50k, gave me some much needed encouragement as I hobbled over the final rollers before the glorious left turn that would take us back to where we started the day some seven hours before—under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, all downhill… which sounds more delightful as I write this than it did with 49 miles and 10,000′ of cumulative quad-crushing downhill in my legs.
You never know who’s going to come up from behind, ’cause it’s never over ’til its over in these ultrarunning contests. Work to that finish line. Earn every step. And then the body has your permission to completely seize up. I must’ve looked pretty bad, ’cause at the finish line volunteers actually asked if I need to be carried. Fake it ’til you make it.
Two final things I want to highlight about the Marin Ultra Challenge were 1.) how Inside Trail Racing allowed us to deposit our head-lamps at an aid-station once the sun came up and had them waiting for us at the finish, and 2.) the big sponges in buckets full of ice-water that were offered at aid-stations once it got warm—THAT WAS SO AWESOME! There were over 70 volunteers out there making this event happen and for them I’m super grateful.
It was another existential battle of mind over body out there, on a course that still lingers in my mind and spirit (and probably body too). I was thrilled to see 7:07 (~8:30/mi avg pace) coming across the line, but I was most psyched about having executed my best mountainous 50mi event to date. The effort to do so does concern me because of the immense strain on the body. What doesn’t kill you…
As of today, now eight days post-MUC, I’ve still only jogged across a few fields with the dogs. Lake Sonoma’s in three weeks and I can either benefit from MUC or become injured coming back to training too fast. Running resumes tomorrow and I’m hopeful, after resting this week, cycling, massage, and yoga, that any niggles from MUC will have vanished. It might be akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but I’m targeting 6:40 to 7:00 at Lake Sonoma here in three weeks. Ultrarunning gods willing, I’ll be able to pull it off. I did see a bobcat up close yesterday on a sweet, hilly road-ride. Ann Trason says that bobcat sightings are good luck. I’ll take that, and run with it. >>> :D
“Something I have always understood is that physical activity is key to a calm mind.” -Simon Whitfield, Olympic Gold Medalist
My New Year’s resolution? Have more awareness, in sport and in life in general. Surely, trail-running encourages present-mindedness, but whenever I take a yoga class, I walk away feeling renewed in a different way. I’m going on a bit of a “yoga expedition” this year, a little journey into my self and see what I can bring back and use on the trail.
This time of year, yoga’s a great alternative to slogging out dark, cold morning miles in the woods. I’m excited to incorporate yoga into my ultrarunning training this year as I have this strong sense that it will encourage further performance gains. Just taking four power yoga classes over the last week has influenced my running and teaching in subtle but noticeable ways. In addition to yoga, great sleep, good foods, plenty ‘o water, and omitting daily toxins like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol probably contribute to this feeling of greater equanimity. Simple is beautiful—just hop on your mat, listen to your instructor, and an hour’s over before you know it. Feel great all day, what’s not to love?
My first introduction to yoga came in 2010, about the time I got bit by the ultrarunning bug. Serenditously, I began to draw parallels between the two. On the mat or on the trail, there is no place to hide from yourself. And in order to get the most out of yourself in either context, you have to clear your mind, be present, breathe, and try your best to go with the flow.
My yoga teacher at Three Dog Yoga in Santa Rosa, Anna, was instructing during a power class just last week about the practical nature of yoga. Practical in the sense of being present, in the moment and how that serves us so well, on and off the mat. Yoga, as I understand it, is a practice, the proverbial journey with no destination. Reminds me of Joan Benoit Samuelson’s quote, “There is no finish line.” All that matters is what we’re doing in the moment, just like ultrarunning. Building presence of mind, then, is a skill we can work on and improve. Then we can take that skill and apply it to any area of our lives. For me, I take what I’m learning in yoga right into the classroom, into my coaching, my running, and my other important life roles.
Beyond presence of mind, yoga serves to stretch and strengthen the body. Yoga practice gets us in touch with our breathing. It also stretches and strengthens the mind by asking us to hold many challenging poses, especially challenging for notoriously tight muscled runners. All of these benefits, of course, are practical needs of any endurance athlete.
Candice Burt, 2nd place female at the 1/20/14 HURT 100mi trail run and new Tahoe Rim 200 Race Director, says that yoga changed her life. Here’s what she recently told Ultra Runner Podcast: the day after running 100mi at HURT:
“[Yoga's] more of a perspective change, slowing down and trying being present in the moment. [It] helps you get to a clearer place. The breathing’s made me really present, it’s really helped me with my running. During the race yesterday, there were a lot of times when I started panicking over how many more miles were left or the next hill I had to climb. When I felt that panic, I would breathe in deep like I did in yoga and that would bring this sense of calm within me. I wouldn’t have been able to bring that calmness out if I hadn’t already practiced it through the yoga poses because a lot of the poses put you under a good deal of stress. You’re body learns how to deal with that, that fear, in the moment.”
Jumping back into ultrarunning from triathlon in 2013, I just ran, All. Year. Long. There wasn’t any strengthening, little stretching, and no sessions specifically attending to focused breathing. By December, I was feeling it. I didn’t just need to take a month off from running, I really wanted to. It’s never just about the body, the mind’s along for the ride too. So, I’m thinking of yoga as my specific mental conditioning training. When I studied sport psychology in graduate school, we were taught sport is 100% mental as well as 100% physical. They are different realms that need to be attended to individually. Surely, this is even more true for ultrarunning. Like I tell my students, the mind is a muscle, you don’t work it out by doing the homework (training) it’s just not gonna be there for you on test (race) day.
I’m always tinkering with my typical training week. I’m a creature of habit and seem to be happiest when I’m engrossed in activities that are most meaningful to me; finding time for quality run training being one example. This year I’m focused on building my two greatest limiters: speed in 50k and 50mi events, and climbing across the board. So, in order to accomodate more intense sessions, I’m dropping my weekly volume a bit. Building for two weeks—versus three—and then taking a recovery week will be another big change. It’s that recovery week that I’m most jazzed about.
I feel this “Two On—One Off” approach to training will keep me healthy while steadily progressing. As is traditional in a run recovery week, I’ll drop the running volume considerably, while maintaining integrity to the most important sessions: two hill sessions and a faster, mid-week road run. I cut the intensity during these sessions by about 40-50% in the recovery week so that I feel like I’m truly recovering while staying sharp. Enter yoga.
Recovery weeks, now, will not only be about recovery from running, but strengthening the body (and mind) to more effectively cope with subsequent run training. I believe yoga can even keep the “flame to train” burning bright. ‘Cause if it’s not fun, we shouldn’t be out there slogging away, right?
It’s gonna be another fun year in the woods, and on the mat! I’ll be writing at least three more follow up posts on yoga’s influence on my ultrarunning training and racing. I have a whole slew of ideas rattling away in my head. Inspiration is everywhere.