Thursday, August 26, 2010

Leadville Trail 100 Race Recap

Katy and Bronwyn, her crew chief, tried to leave for Leadville on Thursday night but got vehemently denied by a combination of mudslides and one badly running RV. Instead, we headed south the next morning, me following in my truck. After the heavy rains the day before, it was a beautiful morning and we made it to Leadville in plenty of time for Katy to do her pre-race medical check-in and to sit in on the race briefing and crew meeting. 800 runners had registered for this year's race, it's largest field ever and about 750 made it to the starting line (362 finishers) Saturday morning at 4 a.m.

We awoke around 2:30 a.m., got ready and drove to the start. Even in the dark, cold morning, the energy at 6th and Harrison was palpable. Bronwyn, myself and other crew members, Johnathan and Laura, watched on as Katy and hundreds of other runners, streamed down the road, headlights beaming, beginning a grand adventure. We then loaded up into the Suburban and made our way to the first aid station, May Queen, where we would resupply Katy after the first 13.5 miles around Turquoise Lake.

Due to the incredible volume of people crewing for runners, the roads were a madhouse all day. At May Queen, we parked about a half mile from the aid station, assembled and loaded a gear chariot and towed Katy's supplies (food, extra clothing, etc.) down to meet her. Katy arrived at May Queen looking calm and relaxed in about 2.5 hours. Her first question, "Did you bring the blue bag?" was met with befuddled looks from the rest of us. Immediately, John bolted into a run back to the Suburban. As a crew, we were now batting 0 for 1. Still, there was no big hurry to get Katy out on the trail right away and she ate a little and stayed warm until John returned with her gear. The next leg had an aid station about 10 miles from this point but we wouldn't meet her until Twin Lakes, about 27 miles away. She packed and wore a running backpack with enough supplies to get her there. After a brief stay, she rejoined the race and began the trek up the Colorado Trail towards Hagerman Pass and onto what would become her toughest stretch.

After leaving Katy, the rest of the crew went back to our campsite to prep food for later in the day and I tried to start mentally preparing myself to pace. We left for Twin Lakes and arrived there a couple hours before we expected Katy to arrive. The little "town" was all abuzz and the front runners were already starting to trickle through. When she finally arrived, Katy complained that the IT band (connective tissue running along the quadracep from the hip to the knee) in her left leg was giving her problems and locking her leg up when she tried to run flats or downhills. The pain had started around mile 18 and wasn't getting any better. John, our masseuse, worked on her for a few minutes as she ate and got ready to climb Hope Pass. I think everyone was little nervous at this point but Katy was determined to keep going. A few minutes after she left Twin Lakes, she called from her cell phone to tell me that she had passed the leader, Anton Krupicka, going the other way (Unfortunately, Anton ended up not finishing the race after "bonking" around mile 80) and to say her leg was locking up again. Still, we stuck to the plan and John, Laura and I went to Winfield to wait for her.

After a dusty and slow drive out to the ghost town of Winfield, we anxiously waited a few hours for Katy's arrival. There was well over a thousand people at the turnaround and it was really quite a spectacle as masses of people gathered to spectate and support these incredible runners. As it got later and later passed the time we expected her to show up, we knew Katy's injury was getting the best of her. We started to think that maybe she had turned around and headed back to Twin Lakes but with a scant 45 minutes to go before the cutoff time, Katy came rolling into Winfield. Her IT band had definitely taken a turn for the worse but she was determined to continue as long as she could. After another massage and conferring with a doctor at the medical tent (who recommended she NOT continue), I joined my beautiful and persistant girlfriend back down the dusty road for 3 miles before heading up the south side of Hope Pass.

We tried to run on the road but it was just too painful for her. However, once we reached the trail she had no problem with the uphill hike. On the contrary, we began passing many people on the climb. Most were just having trouble dealing with the altitude. I know it was frustrating for her that we had no problem passing 20 or so people on the uphill knowing that the downhill would be excruciatingly slow. We reached the Hopeless aid station (complete with 30 or so llamas that had brought in all the supplies) just as the sun was going down, around 8 p.m., and ate a cup of noodles and stood by a fire for a couple minutes. It was getting cold and we were a little underdressed since we had planned to do all this section in daylight. Still, we trudged on downhill, into the dark woods. After about an hour more, we reached the first of several, cold water crossings. These, combined with some cold mud, made the last mile fairly uncomfortable. Just after 10 p.m., we reached the Twin Lakes aid station, 15 minutes after the 9:45 p.m. cut off time. Katy's run had covered 60.5 miles in 18 hours. Not her desired result but very impressive considering her physical condition. Mentally, she did not let down at ANY time. She's a champ.

After a few hours of sleep, we awoke to cheer on some of the final runner's along the part of the course that went by our campsite. Around 9 a.m. we all went to the finish line to watch the last people who would make the 30-hour cutoff (and one that wouldn't). The street was lined with a couple hundred people and the finish was a very emotional scene, especially for these final runners who had fought the course longer than those before them. Particularly moving for me was one man who was in the 70-79 year age group who finished with about 10 minutes to spare. The crowd roared as he came through. Amazing. Chances are very good that Katy and I will both attempt the Leadville 100 next year.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Is running 50 miles any way to impress a woman?

Maybe, but probably not. Especially when she's running one hundred and you are basically a tourist tagging along for a few miles. In 100 mile ultramarathons, runners are given the opportunity to run with a pacer (either chosen by the runner or, if you'd like, provided by the race staff) after a designated point in the race. Usually, some time after the 50 mile mark. As the 100-mile racer approaches 12-14 hours of running and is looking forward to another 12-14 hours, a pacer might join them for a leg or two of the race to guide them and keep them on track with regards to hydration and food intake. At another aid station, another pacer might jump in and run the next leg with the runner and provide the same guidance. Ideally, a runner might have a pacer at each aid station towards the end of a race and have a fresh person to run with to the finish. A fresh set of legs and a new point of view. Not a bad idea. Then, you have the over-zealous, ultrarunning newbie that just can't seem to get enough. Since Leadville allows pacers from the 50 mile turnaround, I enthusiastically agree to be Katy Taylor's one and only pacer for the entire return trip. I figure that it will be an incredible experience for me before I try my first 100, as I will be there first hand through the toughest hours of the race. Also, it is an excellent last long run for me before I run the Steamboat 50 next month. I will feel alot better going into that race knowing that I have a 50 mile run (at night, no less) under my belt already. Beyond that, it's also pretty important that I come out of Leadville fairly healthy so that I can continue running and training until Run Rabbit Run on September 18th.

I've determined that my Achilles pain came from me not breaking into my minimal shoes more gently. They were comfortable so I wore them too often and gradually stressed my Achilles tendon because it was stretching that tiny amount more than it was used to in my cushioned shoes. I noticed an immediate difference yesterday when I started go for a run wearing my Inov8 295s. My Achilles began to hurt to the point I wasn't sure if I should run at all. I switched into my Nike Free 5.0, which are my most cushioned shoe (I wear for road runs) and I felt so good I ended up running 8 miles. Today, I wore my Salomon SpeedCrosses and felt good. Hard to believe a few millimeters makes a difference but I felt it. So, I can still wear the Inov8s, I just need to train my feet to do so gradually.

I've been able to run short and light this week without much pain. Icing and stretching seem to be, at least, keeping my tendonitis and plantar from getting worse. Actually, better each day. I will run a day or two more this week before catching some rest before Leadville. All will be good to go by then. As Katy and I stood at Twin Lakes last weekend looking up at Hope Pass, it really hit me that you have to bring your "A" game to Leadville if you want to get up and over these mountains in under 30 hours. Lord knows what the weather is going to be like. (Probably rain and snow with our luck!) The two of us have been battling some injuries in the last couple weeks but have been cross training and we are both bouncing back strong. Physically, we will be prepared and a good and positive attitude will be no problem. I can't wait to see Kate finish her first 100! (F*ck, I'm nervous!)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mount Werner Classic Race Recap

This past Saturday, I ran in the 16th Mount Werner Classic trail run. There are 5 and 12 mile versions of the race and I participated in the 12'er, which starts at the base of the ski area and climbs 3,400+' to the summit of Mt. Werner before a two mile run descent to the finish at the top of the Gondola. A few weeks ago, I thought this might be my best race of the season but injuries to my feet in the past two races had me thinking otherwise. In the week preceding the race, I should've returned my normal training runs but, instead, I had taken a week off from running and went on two very light, short trail runs during the week. The Achilles tendon on my right foot remained slightly sore to the touch and my plantar faciitis in my left foot seemed to be neither better nor worse. Neither ailment really affects me while I am running but I certainly feel it post run and first thing in the morning. Waking up Saturday morning, I was unsure if I would run the whole race or if I might even hurt myself further if I even ran. I decided to run very slowly to the start (only a mile or so from the house) and see how I felt when I got there to decide whether or not I would race.

I got my race number and lingered at the start at the base of the Gondola, watching other runners file into the area. I was struck at how fit everyone looked and it occured to me that this being such a tough race, it was bringing out the more serious crowd of athletes. On top of that, the race had sold out it's 125 entries for the first time in the history of the race. There were some good runners in this crowd. It may have just been the fun, pre-race atmosphere, but I immediately felt well enough to run. Saying "hello" to the other runners, watching people stretch and warm up, it really got me into the mood to get out there with like-minded people on what was already a beautiful, sunny but cool Steamboat morning.

I decided to go out very easy and only run uphills if I really felt good. My goal if I had been completely healthy was to finish in 2 hours, so I decided that 2:15 was a reasonable goal considering my foot issues. If I really felt good, I thought I might run back down the mountain and back home. I wanted to run slow and easy enough to do this.

After a quick run down of the course by the race director, we were off at 8:00 a.m. This race is essentially a 10 mile climb to the top of the mountain with a 2 mile descent. The climbing starts from the very beginning, although gently, and we all started snaking our way up the ski area. I fell into a relaxed pace, making sure to breathe through my nose only, ensuring I kept it nice and easy. (I did not want to blow up! I kept on thinking about pacing Katy at Leadville in two weeks.) By the time we had completed the first .75 miles up to the bottom Thunderhead I had found a comfortable groove and started to really enjoy myself.

The next couple miles up to the Gondola, first on dirt road and then on the Valley View trail, I felt energized and happy. It was a beautiful day and I was feeling good. Much like the Spring Creek race, I was running on trails I was very familiar with and knew what to expect as we climbed higher. I had plenty of water in my handheld so I passed the first water stop at Snowmaking.

At one point, we passed the game trail that I run up from Whistler Park and I couldn't help but feel like I was right in my backyard. I spent a little bit of the climb talking with a cool local guy named Ryan. I was in such a great mood thinking about all the previous times I'd been on this trail as we cruised up the aspen strewn mountain side. After about 4 miles of steady climbing, I hit the Duster cat track and ran with Brian, a dude from Orange County, for the relatively flat 2 miles out to Rendezvous. He was fun to run and talk with and made the race alot more fun. He was primarily a mountain biker but had done some cool adventure runs like the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim. He and his girlfriend were on vacation by travelling and mountain biking or trail running at various places. We filled our water bottles at the Rendezvous water stop and I left first but felt nature's call and pulled over on the side of the trail to relieve myself. Here, Brian passed me and so did one other runner (Roy Cardwell of Vail). I knew the next section was a 2+ mile long climb to the summit so I just hung back and did a fair share of hiking to take it easier on my feet. I passed Brian after a while and then checked the GPS. Once I knew I had 3 miles remaining in the race, I began to run again and decided to run the rest of the way to the summit and cruise the downhill to the finish. Roy and I pushed each other to the top and started downhill. His shoe came untied and I ran past him as he cheered me on. (Nice guy!) I opened up my stride and cruised the switchbacks on Storm Peak Challenge, passed the Four Points Hut and finished up strong on a short climb back to the Gondola. I ran in easy to the finish and the timer said I looked like I didn't even break a sweat. I ended up being the 8th finisher in 2:06. I hung out at the finish to see a couple of the other guys I had run with finish. I ate a little at the finish tent and socialized for a couple minutes but I felt so good I decided to do the run home. I ran another 5 miles down the mountain and back to the house to finish with about 18 miles and 3 hours of running for the day. My feet were definitely sore afterwards and I've decided to only run in the pool for the next two weeks until Leadville. Speaking of ...

Katy and I went down to Leadville this weekend so that she could show me some of the important points in the race. We walked a couple of the trails and drove over the road sections and looked at the places where some of the aid stations will be located. It made the upcoming race all the more real and looking up to Hope Pass (12,600') from Twin Lakes (9,200'), all the more epic.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Racing Doldrums

I've had a few days off lately to take stock after the first few races of this summer have passed and I await the "serious" part of the racing season to begin. It's got me thinking about the pros and cons of my racing schedule. First, I'll start with the downside: overuse/abuse injuries. I've been taking these few days off because, frankly, I've hammered the hell out of my feet in the last couple weeks. Left foot: aggravated plantar fasciitis. Right foot: Achilles tendon soreness and soreness in ligament or muscle on the top of the foot from the big toe back to about mid-foot. Not good but not the end of the world. I've been swimming and running in the pool with Katy the last few days and light hike/running in VFFs and expect to be running again in a day or so. Still, it's an eye opener and education in the fine art of training vs. racing and pushing the body to new limits.

In the early season, I did a great job of staying injury free and got a good base of mileage (However, I will say that I wasn't as consistent with my running schedule as I could have been.). My first race this year, Collegiate Peaks 25, I used as a training run, so I didn't run hard, just maintained through the race and kicked at the very end. In my last two races, I turned up the effort quite a bit (with great results time/place-wise) and it has cost me the foot pain that I'm now trying to recover from. Particularly at Spring Creek, because it was a short race, I finally got some race pace running in and pushed myself into the low 5 min/mile range, something that my body is just not used to. It's been a long 15 years since the last time I ran that hard and I shouldn't be surprised that my feet are reacting. Also, I've been training for and running at ultra-distance pace: that's about 10-12 minutes/mile. Way slower and way easier on the body. The fast running was a shock to the system.

I suspect that a pair of my trail running shoes might also be to blame. I recently started wearing Inov8 shoes, which I LOVE. I have two pair, Roclite 295s, for training runs and X-Talon 240s, for racing. They are lightweight and slipper-like fitting with great traction. And they wear out fast (at least, the 240s. After two training runs and two races, they've almost worn through on the outer edge of the toebox. Damn!) But they are minimal running shoes with very little underfoot support. Lately, when I've laced them up, I can feel the pain in the top of my right foot return. When I wear my Salomon SpeedCrosses, which are more built up underfoot, no pain. This is also true for my Nike Free 5.0 road running shoes, which also have alot of underfoot support (even though Nike markets them as minimal shoes). I don't have a problem returning to the SpeedCrosses but it would really suck if my Inov8s caused my foot pain because they are SO comfortable. I don't know why they would cause any pain. Then again, maybe it's just because I ran my ass off in Tahoe and at Spring Creek.

Aside from that, racing this summer has been become a really incredible time in my life. I truly enjoy being out on the trails, for any length of time. My diet is the best it's ever been. I'm eating nuts, berries and other fruit, on a daily basis as well as tons of vegetables and occasional seafood and meat for protein. I still indulge occasionally, but wanting to be fit in order to run some more usually keeps that in check. The training and races have got me doing a little more travelling this year, which has been great. It's kept me busy, although sometimes this feels like a negative because you don't feel like there's enough time for everything. Then you remember: There never is. Oh well, at least I'm devoting much of my time to what I love doing.

Now, I'm gonna geek out and talk about the runs I have coming up. First, next Saturday, I'm doing the Mt. Werner Classic. This is a 12 mile, 3400' climb from the base of the ski area to the top of Mt. Werner and back down to the Gondola. This race is, quite literally, in my backyard and is going to be super fun. I'm hoping to finish in sub-2:15, without pushing too hard. I would love to run faster but with the Leadville 100 only a few weeks away, it is imperative that I stay healthy. In fact, right after the race Katy and I are going to Leadville to do some last training runs on the course.

Which brings us to the Leadville Trail 100. Holy shit. One of the most celebrated races in American mountain ultrarunning. What an experience that is going to be! I have to say, I'm glad it's Katy going for it all and I get to run as a pacer. Sure, I want to do a 100 miler but I'm not ready yet. I think Katy is though. She's been going to Leadville for the past couple months and running parts of the course with great success. I've run with her enough to know that she will absolutely finish. She might even get a buckle (finish under 25 hours). I'm actually a little worried that I won't be able to keep pace with her in the late miles when she gets her second or third wind and I start fading. If she's pushing for that time because she's close and I can't keep pace, I'm going to feel like a real jerk! (I keep thinking that I should've elected to pace her for 40 or fewer miles but I wanted the full 50 miles on the course. Smart!) So, I've put some pressure on myself to run well at Leadville and it will be an EXCELLENT long run for me before my biggest race of the year: Run Rabbit Run.

Even though I'm new to sport of moutain ultrarunning, I already know that the Steamboat 50 will be a defining race for me. I fell in love with trail running on these same trails. It's where I started connecting with my girlfriend. It's where I run with my dog and where I've camped with my friends. It's the mountain I snowboard on in the winter. It's the place I love to call Home. And as such, it's the race I always want to bring my "A" game to. I've learned that there is already a small but strong contingent of talented ultra runners in the Steamboat area. On top of this, the race just became part of the Montrail UltraCup Series, meaning it will attract some of the best runners in the sport. Geoff Roes, who just won this year's Western States 100 and has never been beaten at 100 miles, is registered to run this year. Only in it's fourth year, the race is gaining stature and it makes me all the more proud to be a part of it. September 18th. Mark it on your calender.

Beyond that, I'm still thinking about going to San Francisco in December to run the North Face 50 again. Ultimately, that will depend on whether or not I can AFFORD to go but the runner in me want's a piece of that tough-ass course again. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. All day long. A monster. (Geoff Roes ran that course in 7 hours. I did it in almost 12.) Again, whether I can afford to.

So, just a little mindless blathering from a pool-running trail runner. You can probably tell I'm antsy from not running by how long winded this blog entry is! Hope you enjoyed it. C'mon feet! Feel better!