Monday, November 2, 2015

Reborn at the 2015 Javelina Jundred: My Race Report

Now in my twelfth year of running "long distances," I've read a lot of race reports. I've come to the place where I realize that brevity is king. So, without further delay, here are some thoughts about how things went down at the 2015 Javelina Jundred (100-mile run) in the Arizona desert. I don't want to do a blow-by-blow as that's boring. Instead, I just want to provide some highlights and keep it real. I'll try to be succinct but we'll see how it goes.

Pre-race photos with the guys. Left to right: Steve, AJ, me, Mike, Chuck and Jon. Photo by Heidi Mizones.

First off, I can't say enough about how well-organized and executed this race is. The Coury brothers have built an incredible event. It's a trail running festival with music, dancing, drunk emcees, crazy-good food, lots of alcohol, a huge tent city with a "Burning Man" look to it, and all the fixings you could ever want. From the pre-race communications to the race itself, it's a world-class experience as far as ultras go. The ice in the aid stations was plentiful and a God-send!

My only suggestion is that runners need to be reminded pre-race of the need to stay single-file on the trail. Late in the race, after it was dark, I was hit by approaching double-file runners (usally running as a group of friends) four times. It got old fast. I also found the amount of "running-while-texting/talking" on the course quite distressing. Really? If you need to talk to someone, get off the trail. Better yet, do what I did--leave your phone in the car.

I'm very satisfied with my result: 20 hours and 13 minutes, which was good for 24th place out of some 465 starters. My lap times were 2:27, 2:34, 3:04, 3:29, 3:26, 3:15, 1:58 (final "short lap). I rallied on the sixth and seventh laps (more on that below). I'm proud of the fact that I had no crew or pacers, though I did have plenty of friends on the course, such as AJ Wellman, Chuck Radford, Jon Ahern, Mike Mizones (who was crewed by his lovely wife, Heidi), Scott Schrader, Trevor Emory and others. In the absence of crew and pacer support, I "talked" to myself a lot. I reminded myself to take in salt, eat, drink, etc. And that was the perfect situation for me in this particular race. I'm now wondering if I need pacers at all in hundreds.

Another thing I want to note: I didn't turn on my iPod until mile 54 and I think that made a huge difference. The music really resonated with me in the last 48 miles because, by then, I really wanted to listen to some tunes. "Foreplay/Long Time" by Boston really got me fired up--I listened to that song probably 30 times.

I was gunning for a sub-20-hour result but it fell by the wayside when I found out that the course was actually closer to 102 miles. It didn't really matter much to me--that was two more miles of fun.

As far as shoes, I wore my newest pair of Hoka One One Cliftons (second generation) the whole way. The Clifton is the greatest shoe I've ever worn. I also wore Thorlo socks--the thick, heavily cushioned kind. Thorlo isn't "cool" among ultrarunners but I've been wearing them since day one. They work for me. I wore a North Face singlet and TNF shorts, my trusty CWX compression shorts, and my Outdoor Research Badwater-style hat with flaps, which held plenty of ice and kept me pretty cool when it was wet. Other equipment included Oakley sunglasses and my well-worn Ultimate Direction AK vest (first generation).

I have not said this to anyone--not even my wife--but after my Bighorn DNF, and really after my 2014 Leadville 100 (which I finished but it was ugly), my confidence as a runner was shattered. I didn't know if I could finish another 100. I questioned not only my gut but also my mental toughness. Had I lost it? I wasn't sure. If I lost it, I seemed to have found it at Javelina, where I ran every step of the last 27 miles, passing scores of runners because I had a deep desire to perform at my best. I thought about my wife and our son every step of the way in those final 27 miles. I wanted to make them proud--and I wanted to prove to myself that I can still run 100s and be a good "closer."

Javelina is harder than advertised. The 600-foot climb on each loop wasn't terrible but it was just enough to wear you down over the course of the 102 miles. The trail has some sweet smooth sections and a few fairly technical stretches. There are some stretches where you can really open up the pace. That said, living in Colorado, nothing on the actual course scared me at all.

What really makes Javelina challenging is the heat and the distance between some of the aid stations, like the 6.5 miles from Jackass Junction to Coyote Camp. Although it got to "only" 80 degrees, we were totally exposed to that famous Arizona sun and by 2pm I was fairly hot. At around mile 54, I puked. I ran the next 6.5 miles not in the best of shape but in good enough shape to keep trailing Pam Reed. When we got to the mile-60 aid station, Coyote Camp, I was in bad shape and started puking again--likely from being over-heated. "Here we go again," I said to myself as I barfed in the trash can. But I quickly put away negative thoughts and instead focused on fixing the situation, starting with some broth and water. Thankfully, I was able to regroup and finish strong with no more gut issues.

My strong finish came down to sheer determination to have a good race, but also to some really good fuel. The last 40 miles were fueled by water, boiled potatoes with a heavy dose of salt, Mountain Dew, and broth. I found that if I chased the Mountain Dew with plenty of water, I was OK. I just cannot handle big doses of sugary stuff.

Simply put, I was on fire in the last 27 miles. I haven't run that well in a 100 since the 2013 Leadville 100. When I do Billy Idol-like howls coming into aid stations, as I did as Javelina Jeadquarters at mile 77, I'm pumped. And boy was I pumped. So, all in all, this was a great race for me. I got my confidence back and I know I can keep racing 100s because the mental toughness that propelled me for so long is still there.

But it wasn't all mental toughness. I trained right. I put in good volume. I ran hill repeats. I lifted weights. I came into the race having had an exceptional taper and was in good shape. I was very well-hydrated going into Javelina (proper hydration prior to a race, I have found, is a week-long process). I think all the weight training I did in the mid summer up to Javelina paid off in a huge way--even as it resulted in me "gaining" a few pounds in muscle weight. I cannot stress enough how important resistance training is as we age. I'm now a believer.

It was so awesome to share the trail with such a wonderful group of runners. Everyone seemed to have a good time, even amid very tough conditions with the heat, and the aid stations were full of happy, helpful volunteers just there to assist where they could. The entire atmosphere was one of celebration. It's clear the love, friendliness and compassion you feel in this race starts with the guys who run the show.

While I'm not one to get star-struck, I will admit that it was quite a thrill to see Karl Meltzer in action. Even as we're very different runners (obviously), I've always admired the "Wasatch Speedgoat." He has so much mojo and it's easy to see why he's an intimidating runner. He's a big guy (like me), and yet he moves fast and he just has a presence on the trail that's difficult to describe.

I also greatly enjoyed running with Pam Reed. We didn't say a word to each other during the race, as we stayed within about 100 feet of each other for maybe 30 miles, but the day before we chatted it up. Pam is not only a wonderfully friendly person but also an incredible runner. She's like a metronome in that she never stops and she keeps moving at the same pace regardless of the grade of the trail. I was in awe of her. It's easy to see how she became the first woman to win the Badwater Ultramarathon outright.

Finally, how awesome it was to chat briefly with Ann Trason. I have always considered Ann the greatest ultrarunner to ever live. Although Yiannis Kouros is no slouch, he was never the well-rounded runner that Ann was in her prime. Ann, like Scott Jurek (and Ellie Greenwood to some extent), dominated on the road and trail and at just about every distance, setting course records and world records along the way. She's a warm, humble person and I simply relished the 2-3 minutes we ran together as she was making her way into the 100K finish. She will not admit what a great runner she was in her prime. Running next to Ann was a moment I'll never, ever forget. It was like shooting hoops with Michael Jordon or throwing the football with Joe Montana.

I also have to say how cool it was to see Gordy Ainsleigh out there. As we passed each other the first time, I thanked him for founding 100-mile racing. You could say Gordy's had an impact :-).

Congrats to all my buddies who finished a great race. That includes Chuck (11th overall in the 100-mile), AJ (8th overall in the 100K) and Jon (27th overall in the 100-mile). It was a fun, rewarding day and I had nothing but a great time while in the Scottsdale area.

Now, it's time to rest a little and enjoy the ski season. Oh yeah, I also need to enter the Western States lottery now that I'm qualified for 2016!

OK, so that wasn't very brief. Sorry!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Final Javelina Jundred Thoughts / Marathon & Beyond Closing Its Doors

Here's some motivation for today and the week. Over the weekend, “Jerry Maguire” was on the Esquire Channel and I’ll admit that I watched it (for the 36th time). Great movie even as it’s very nineties and incredibly corny at various points ("You had me at hello").  I've also randomly included here a photo of Steve Prefontaine, who I've always admired. I think a lot about Pre and I've started telling my son about him. My son has started running and last weekend finished his first race, a 5K sponsored by his school district. As far as we can tell, he finished first among all kids his age. I can't tell you how proud I am of him--but not because of where he finished. I'm proud of how composed he kept himself during the race; he was tough, resolved and determined. Most importantly, he had fun. Anyway, the video and Pre's legacy really hit on a larger point: Attitude is key. I need to keep reminding myself of that because I can sometimes complain too damned much.

My Javelina Jundred training ended on a really good note. Before I forget, let me just say that the Coury brothers (who operate Aravaipa Running, which owns and puts on Javelina) seem to have this race dialed. The pre-race communications have been stellar. I’m really excited about the whole experience, though, as with any 100, I’m dealing with pre-race jitters.

Before the three-week taper kicked in, I had a couple of back-to-back 85-mile weeks and finished fourth overall at the Xterra Trail Marathon at Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs without really expending too much effort. Granted, Xterra was a small race with a tiny field but I’ll take fourth any day of the week—especially when the three runners ahead of me were all 30 or younger. It was a hot day and all that was available on the course, which had over 3,400 feet of climbing, was sports drink and water. It was nonetheless great training, and I finished the race with plenty in the tank. Except for sore shins from the rocky trail, I woke up the next day feeling 100%.

Going into Javelina, I’m feeling good except for a slightly tweaked back that I’m hoping will get to 100% within the next few days. Not sure what I did to tweak it—it’s not bad, just more aggravating than anything. That said, I have no reason to feel anything but optimistic about Javelina. I'm very aerobically fit; the vast majority of my training has been aerobic. Yesterday (Sunday), just for fun, I went all out on a .75-mile trail loop with a few small hills near my house and the speedometer hit about 4:50 pace for a short time (I did the loop in 5:30something pace). So, the wheels are moving well. Of course, I won’t be running Javelina at 5:30 pace. It'll all be aerobic. Goals are:

1) Finish – always the penultimate goal in a 100; nothing is more important, especially when qualification for the 2016 Western States 100 is on the line
2) Sub 20 hours
3) Every man/woman for himself/herself

I’m really glad I took up weight training after my failure at Bighorn. I feel better and I’ve noticed that my speed has improved. It occurred to me that after a 100 when I’m always sore from head to toe, it’s because running for that long requires energy from just about every muscle in the body. Around age 40, you start to lose muscle—that’s when resistance training becomes really important. So whether it’s a full-body workout in the gym, core work, or pushups, I’m hitting the resistance training on a consistent basis and it’s paying off in how I feel (my wife has also been at it with resistance training and she swears by its effects, too). I think it’ll all pay off at Javelina, but who really knows?

I think with Javelina, like with Leadville, there’s more than meets the eye. Although the two courses are very different, both of them bring potentially crushing elements that don’t show up on paper or in course profiles. With Javelina, you have heat and a course that people see as “flat,” which then goads them into going out too fast. Over the weekend, I saw this post on the Javelina Facebook page and I think the author really nailed it. In a nutshell: Go out at a conservative pace, respect the distance from the get-go, and stay hydrated and cool, especially during the heat of the day.

One of the things I like most about Javelina is its simplicity. You run a bunch of loops and there are two areas where you can have “don’t-drop” bags. While there is a notable change in the temperature after sunset, it’s not so dramatic that you have to pack a ton of stuff to stay warm (like at Leadville). Basically, it comes down to a change of shoes, a few pairs of extra socks, some layers, some simple first-aid supplies, and a few headlamps. Based on what I’ve read in pre-race communications, it sounds like the race will have a ton of great stuff on the course.

Final few thoughts: I’m deeply saddened by the news of Marathon & Beyond’s announcement to close as a result of declining subscribership. I’ve subscribed to M&B for ten years (maybe 11) and was once published in it for my 2007 Burning River 100 race. The editor, Rich Benyo, has provided a great service to the running community for decades. That includes Rich’s outstanding book, “The Death Valley 300.” With its in-depth articles and scholarly analysis, which apparently interests fewer and fewer people in this age of social media, I guess M&B just couldn’t make a go of it after 19 years of putting out arguably the highest-quality content of any running publication. So, this is really sad. But, this I will say: As a long-time subscriber, I think there are things M&B could have done to stay relevant and fresh, like beefing up its digital presence. That’s just a reality these days.

On a related note, I really think ultrarunning is more than ripe for a strong voice coming at the "sport's" challenges from an objective (as possible) standpoint. With demand far outstripping supply in terms of number of racers and number of slots in the more notable events, we continue to operate within an old and broken system. It seems life now revolves around lotteries. Who out there is talking about real solutions with independence from advertisers and others with financial interests who could influence what's said/not said? It seems many of the sites covering ultrarunning are doing so from a “fan boy/fan girl” perspective (Have I been I a fanboy? Yes. But I might be becoming more objective...). Where’s the objective analysis and where are the disruptive ideas? I remember a few years ago a website popped up and it had some “controversial” content that got everyone in a tizzy. I didn’t agree with some of what the writers said (I remember a post about Geoff Roes that crossed some lines) but I think now is the time for a site that could be constructive, impartial, idea-driven and analytical (without crossing any lines). I say that with some measure of hypocrisy because I’m a fan, too. :-)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Training Update / Hot to Trot 10K Race Report

With the Javelina Jundred now a month away, my training is going well. While my overall mileage hasn't been quite as high as I'd like (my ideal comfort zone has always been 90-105 miles a week but I don't have time for that anymore), I'm feeling good and my confidence is in a good place. Based on the course profile, Javelina delivers what I like in an ultra. It's all runnable and has just ~6,000 feet of vertical gain. I'm not a hiker. I don't particularly like hiking in races. I like to run. So, in that regard, Javelina is right up my alley. And yet it's far from easy! Last year, less than half of starters finished--probably due to the heat and poor pacing.

Javelina Jundred from Project Talaria on Vimeo.

One thing about Javelina that does get my attention is the potential for hot, dry weather. Situated in the Arizona desert, the course offers no shade. Fortunately, with a full summer behind me, I should be decently heat-trained. The keys will be to pace it well and stay cool and hydrated--all things that are firmly in my control.

I have a few races coming up, including the Xterra Trail Marathon in Cheyenne Mountain State Park and a 5K on the road, that will take me right into my Javelina taper. The Xterra race will be a training run and will come with zero taper.

Last Sunday, I lined up for the Hot to Trot 10K race in Pueblo, Colorado, which is about 100 miles south of where we live. I was down in Pueblo for work as my employer, Delta Dental of Colorado, once again sponsored the annual Chile & Frijoles Festival, where tens of thousands of people enjoy a fun three-day street party of sorts. I figured that while I was there I might as well run in their 10K race, which I saw in action last year and regretted not entering. This was to be my first-ever 10K, which is hard to believe as I've run in almost 75 races in my life.

Based on the 2014 results, I knew there was a shot that I could break the tape in this year's 10K. But then when we lined up on Sunday morning in downtown Pueblo, I noticed a few fast, young guys around me. Turns out they had entered the 5K. Once the 5K and 10K split off, I found myself in the front. I hadn't found myself in the front of a race in a long time. A really nice guy on a bike led me out to the turnaround on the path they have along the river, allowing me to see who was behind once I zipped around the cone. I was reminded of how stressful it is to be in the lead of a race. Not that it happens much with me (hadn't happened since 2009), but it's stressful. That said, I had every intention of winning this thing!

Long story short: I was able to hold the lead and finish back in town first overall in the 10K with a time of 38 minutes and 35 seconds. I was deep in the pain cave in the last 10 minutes. That's not a terribly fast winning time for a 10K but it was fast enough to get me the W on that particular day. So, in that respect, I'll take it. It felt really good and it gave my confidence a little boost. Plus, I had a great time. This was a fantastic, low-key community race and they even fed us a hot breakfast at the Gold Dust Saloon afterward! Plus, I won a pumpkin and walked away with a nice 1st-place medal. Other things I liked about the race:

1) They had just one aid station and all it had was...water. I like that.
2) At no point in the race did they offer bacon, sports drinks, Big Macs and other items now offered at ultras to athletes who have become entirely too spoiled.
3) It started with "ready, set, go!"
4) It was perfectly marked.

After the race, I got to thinking about my time. Five or six years ago, I thought, my time would have been 2-3 minutes faster. While that may potentially be true, it's also true that Pueblo is at about 4,700 feet. So, I figure at sea level I might be 30-60 seconds faster. I would love to enter a sea level 10K and find out for sure!

I really like the 10K distance. The 10K pushes you into the pain cave. You can run it super hard and then wake up the next day with minimal soreness. I think one of the bad habits ulrarunners can develop is not going into the pain cave enough. Ultras, while really hard, usually require lower intensities. I think it's a good idea, at least for me, to rev up the engine now and then and taste blood. It keeps the knife sharp (nothing like mixing metaphors).

Now, go run!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Scott Jurek and a Training Update

Before we get to Scott Jurek...a brief training update.

With the Javelina 100-miler now about six weeks away, my training is in full swing. In addition to putting in the mileage, I've incorporated weight/resistance training and definitely noticed some differences in my upper body and lower body. Lots of core work, as always. I've also added some spice to my training workload by mixing in a few races here and there, including a 10K next weekend, as well as a 5K and a hilly trail marathon (Xterra) that'll take me right into my Javelina taper.

Amazingly, in the more than 70 races I've finished over the years, this will be my first 10K. I would be thrilled with a time under 39 minutes. As for my 5K, I like do that distance at least once a year; it's a great measuring stick, which can be both good and bad! My hope is for the trail marathon to cap off a week of 90-100 miles; I'm going into it with no taper. Then I'll be pacing my son to his first 5K finish a week before Javelina. I can't wait for that!

I really think success at Javelina for me comes down to three main things: 1) Staying cool and hydrated during the hot daytime hours, 2) pacing it correctly and 3) staying positive. That third one used to never be an issue with me in ultras but I would be lying if I said that my Bighorn DNF didn't rattle my confidence a bit. So, above all, I need to stay positive and keep an upbeat mental dialogue going from start to finish. I think staying upbeat will translate to a happy gut.

Now for Mr. Jurek.....


While it may seem like old news, the fallout from what went down at Baxter State Park after Scott Jurek set the record for the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail seems to me quite ridiculous and saddening.

Photo of Jurek by Luis Escobar.

This morning, listening to Jurek and his wife, Jenny, recount their incredible 46-day adventure to Talk Ultra’s Ian Corless--and after having read much of the coverage of his AT record--I almost became angry about what's transpired at his expense. Note that they didn't talk about what happened at Baxter--they stayed positive--but I kept thinking about it as I listened to them open their hearts and describe what was truly a life-changing experience.

I know people who are close to Jurek and were actually out on the AT with him for various sections of time. From all I’ve read and heard, Jurek and his crew were true stewards of the trail and the environment around them. They packed out everything, left no trace and recycled much of what they used.
So, with that said, for him to be cited for littering when some celebratory champagne hit the ground seems ridiculous. Who knows what really went down that day, but by all accounts the park rangers had green-lighted the champagne only to cite Jurek when he came down from Mount Katahdin for drinking, littering and having too many people up there. Two of the charges were later dropped and Jurek paid a fine (only the drinking charge was upheld). Rather than exercise some discretion, what appears to have happened was an overreaction resulting in ticket-writing.
To me, what really was at work was this: Jurek, a celebrity to be sure, was targeted and publicly made an example of by Baxter SP rangers who had probably justifiably reached their boiling point because of misuse of the trail and park by so many--but who channeled their outrage at the wrong guy. How else to explain that rather nasty Facebook rant the park posted?

While most through-hikers and runners care for and are stewards of the land—as Jurek is—there are some people who are lacking when it comes to respect for Mother Nature. There are some people who think the surroundings revolve around them—leading to abuse. Hell, even at the Pikes Peak Marathon this year I saw litter well beyond the boundaries of the aid stations. But littering is only part of the problem. Consider for a moment what’s happened at Waterton Canyon, where some trail users have snapped so-called "selfies" with bears in the background. Are you kidding me? Do they have that little respect for nature? Waterton Canyon, which connects with section one of the Colorado Trail, is one of my favorite places to run--but it's not without yahoos, I suppose. Sadly, it's closed until the “bear problem” clears up.

Last summer, running down the Barr Trail, I came upon a mountain lion. It was my first encounter with a mountain lion and I can assure you that the last thing on my mind was reaching for my iPhone, much less snapping a "selfie." I was more concerned with my safety. I’m not sure what would possess one to take a "selfie" with a wild animal, whose land you are using, but when I read things like this it all becomes clear. We’re an increasingly narcissistic society and we’re passing it onto our young.

So, in that context, Jurek, who had quite a following during his AT adventure since he is, after all, Scott Freaking Jurek, was probably being made an example of by park officials who had it up to here with idiots breaking spoken and unspoken rules by misusing and abusing the land and basically exploiting it for their own self-glorification. Only Jurek isn’t one of those idiots. Completely misreading the situation, they saw cameras and champagne and pounced with citations, later taking to Facebook to publicly rake Jurek over the coals--all in the name of sending a message. While their frustration with park abuse is very understandable, Jurek never should have been a target. It's all very sad.

In part because of movies like “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods,” trails these days are littered with people searching for something—probably because their lives need more meaning. While most have a deep respect for the land, there will always be some bad apples—like those who leave litter, exhibit an entitled attitude and take "selfies" with wild animals. The problem is that these bad apples are creating problems for those of us who responsibly move over the land and show the trail the respect it deserves. Another problem is that this overcrowding is making it incredibly hard to get permits for hikers and runners who want to experience magical places like the John Muir Trail.

Something needs to be done—starting with efforts to educate people on how to responsibly use the trail and land without leaving any trace. And, while we’re at it, let’s get a grip on the “hey, look at me” selfies.

No, go run!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pacing Matt Curtis at Leadville

On Saturday, I paced Matt Curtis at the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. I met up with him at the turnarond at Winfield, a ghost town located at mile 50, and then paced him over Hope Pass and into Twin Lakes. Matt was on fire coming into Winfield, arriving ~8 hours and 45 minutes into the race. Always a tough competitor, Matt looked focused and ready for the challenge--a challenge he knows well because this was his sixth Leadville.

I have known Matt since I was seven years-old. He was, I think, five, when we first met in the early eighties. Our parents were very close friends and we all lived in Columbia, Maryland, a planned community situated between Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC. Matt, his sister Caroline, and I ran cross-country for the Howard County Junior Striders and our team even went to the Junior Olympics (despite my crappy showing at the qualifier at Slippery Rock State College) in (I believe) 1986. We took vacations together and during the summer went on occasional day trips.

Except for a few visits here and there, we all went in separate directions when my family moved away in 1987. But then in 2010, when my family and I moved to Colorado, Matt and I re-connected (he had been living in Colorado for five years when we moved here), got to talking and ultimately found that running remained a common bond after all these years. We both signed up for Leadville (his first ultra!) and never looked back. Because of busy schedules, we don't get together much, but we've gone on some fun training runs, like a rather interesting adventure with Jason Romero in June 2010 from Twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery with a wrong turn that took us up Mount Elbert. We ran out of water and things got dicey (we drank from streams), but we persevered.

So on Saturday, when I met up with my old friend at Winfield, I took comfort in the fact that I know this man well. I know how tough he is (very tough) and how deep he'll dig (very deep). I know he'll fight tooth and nail and never give up. This is a guy who, with grit, guts and determination, WON the freaking Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 2014 and, over the past few years, has worked himself up to a top-10, sub-20-hour-caliber runner at Leadville--select company. Just as I started to lose a step to aging and my stomach started giving me fits in 100s, Matt's running really took off. It's been fun watching him perform so brilliantly even though there's still an element of friendly competition between us.

Anyway, back to Leadville. From Winfield, we got right to work on the rolling Sheep Gulch Trail connecting up with the Hope Pass climb. Matt was running strong and drinking pretty well. The climb up Hope...well, what else to say except it's a monster. That climb has a few sections where the grade is more than 40% and you gain 2,000+ feet in two miles. It's a murderous 2,600-vertical-foot climb to the top of the 12,600-foot pass. But Matt battled and got up to the top and then just hammered it back down. Not far down the pass on the the front side, as I was working to keep up with him, I suddenly lost my footing (again, we were hammering it!) and fell on my right hand. I honestly thought I had broken my hand but then a few minutes later the pain subsided and I was OK. Matt was on fire going into Hopeless!

When we came into Hopeless, he needed his bottles filled and I stopped to take care of it while he quickly got some soda and then took off. Unfortunately, the water dispenser was temporarily down and there was a line of people waiting for it to be fixed. Meanwhile, Matt was already a few hundred meters down the mountain. Realizing that, if I didn't get out of here soon, I wouldn't catch up to him, I got his bottles filled with GU and took off down the trail as fast as I could run! Finally, about five minutes later I caught up to him and reported on the fiasco, knowing he'd be disappointed because this far in the race you need not just calories but also water. "Hey, bro," I said, "I have good news and bad news." "What?" he asked. "The good news is that I got a bunch of Roctane so we're OK on calories. The bad news is that the water machine was broken so we don't have any water."

Roctane notwithstanding, all I had was a bottle half full of creek water that Matt could use to douse himself, but we both decided he shouldn't drink from it.

So we hammered it down the pass and, before we knew it, were at the meadow making our way toward Twin Lakes. Matt ran the meadow and through the water crossings super strong and got into the aid station at 3:30pm (11:30 into the race) looking tired but good and determined. My pacing duties were done and it was a good thing because my quads were singing a bit from the Pikes Peak Marathon six days earlier! From Twin Lakes, he had two other very capable runners--both old college cross country buddies (one of whom is his brother-in-law)--to help him get to the finish.

Matt went on to battle hard and earn yet another big buckle. He might not have had the race he wanted this time around but he nonetheless battled hard and got it done. His grit was inspiring.

A few things I learned from the weekend:
  1. Being focused but relaxed and pleasant is critical. My friend, Chuck Radford, who ran an 18:43 and finished fourth overall, looked so smooth coming into and out of aid stations. The entire vibe with him and his crew was one of quiet confidence but also levity, like when his crew chief, AJ, jokingly asked for a kiss at Outward Bound inbound after Chuck kissed his wife and kids. You never detected any distress even though Chuck was suffering like everyone else. Chuck was so dialed in and as cool as a cucumber. This is a guy who's in his forties, works full-time, has a family, doesn't get enough sleep (I'm in this category for sure), etc. Amazing!
  2. Water is the foundation upon which a solid nutrition plan is built. It all starts with staying hydrated and having the right electrolyte balance.
  3. At the risk of stating the obvious, the key to Hope Pass is forward progress. Just keep moving, even if it's slowly. Stopping wastes precious time when the goal needs to be getting up and over the mountain as quickly as possible. Matt did a great job of moving up, over and back down the pass. His descending was very impressive.
  4. Only a few runners can truly compete at Leadville. You can be a very good runner and still under-achieve at Leadville; it's just one of those races. For most of us, the key is to run our own race. In a sport full of overachievers, it's easy to fixate on pacing goals and get sucked into what others are doing but you have to run your own race. If you run too hard, even in that first 13 miles to Mayqueen, you're going to pay for it at some point. Just stay within yourself and enjoy the day.
  5. Smile a lot. It changes your attitude, exudes confidence, and gives your crew the lift they need--which in turn helps you out as the runner. Smile because this is supposed to be fun!
One final thing that I've always known but I was reminded of yet again this past weekend: Leadville is an incredible experience and race. I know of no other race with the vibe Leadville offers. That's why I'll be back next year, lottery gods permitting. It's just an incredible experience.

Now, go run!

Friday, August 21, 2015

10 Reasons Why the Leadville 100 is Awesome

With it being Leadville week, I'm pretty pumped to have been quoted in this excellent Runner's World story about Lifetime Fitness' ownership of and aspirations for the race series. I'm sure not everyone will agree with my assessment and that's OK. I do want to say that, while I love the Leadville 100 with all of my heart, I also do have concerns. Its brand is growing so big, especially with a major motion picture in production, that I worry about demand far outstripping supply. I don't worry about Lifetime (it's a good company, folks) but the thought of a private equity firm owning Lifetime and, by extension, the Leadville Race Series does give me some pause.

But enough with that. It's race weekend and I wanted to use this opportunity to share my own 10 reasons why the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run is such an amazing experience for all.

10) Leadville is a kick-ass mountain town with a fascinating story. It's situated at 10,000 feet in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and you won't find a town in the US that has thrived and then struggled and then thrived in its own unique way more than Leadville. In places like Vail and Breck, everything is perfect. In places like Leadville, you see ruggedness and feel the ghosts of the past. The race was borne from Leadville's "boom and bust" history. Plus, right there before you are two of Colorado's highest peaks, Mounts Massive and Elbert.

9) The course is challenging but runnable. Some people love hiking courses and others like to run the whole way. What I most love about Leadville is that it's mostly runnable but it throws enough good climbs at you, most notably Hope Pass in both directions, to keep you honest. The biggest challenge with Leadville, though, isn't the course or even the distance; it's the altitude, which leads me to #8.

Me with that "what just ran over me?" look after coming
into Twin Lakes inbound at the 2010 race.

8) It's all between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet. With the exception of Hardrock, you won't find a 100-miler out there that takes you so high for so far. That's why it's called "The Race Across the Sky."

7) Despite what a few naysayers claim, the Leadville 100 is fundamentally the same race today as it was under Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin's watch. The course is pretty much identical to what it was back in the day. Sure, there are some differences, like the new trail into and out of Winfield and the new aid station at the top of Powerline. Plus, there's the grass section between Outward Bound and Pipeline (I'm not a fan of this change) and the re-route that the helicopter crash near Halfmoon forced a few years ago. But it's still fundamentally the same course. It still has the same power that it's always had; now it's just a bit bigger because of the McDougall book and the Lifetime brand.

6) You earn a seriously badass belt buckle if you finish in under 25 hours. See above. You could eat a Thanksgiving dinner on one of those things. Some people say they don't care about their buckles. When I'm 90 and broken down, they'll mean something to me.

5) Hope Pass. In the middle of the race, you climb and descend over 12,000 feet in the span of 21 miles. That's a hefty amount of gain and loss and it comes smack-dab in the middle of the race, when you're starting to feel fatigued. Adding to the experience is the Hopeless aid station, where you're greeted by the friendliest volunteers and the famous llamas they use to transport supplies up the mountain.

Leadville Trail Marathon elevation profile.

4) If the 100-mile distance is a bit too much too soon, you can still experience the "holy sh$t" power of Leadville by signing up for the Silver Rush 50-Mile Run or the Leadville Trail Marathon. I've never done the 50 but I've done the marathon five times and it's a doozey, taking you through the old mining district and up and back down the 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass.

3) They give you ways to keep upping the ante. If you ever reach the point where the 100-mile run doesn't so much excite you anymore, then step right up and sign up for Leadman! Perhaps in a few years I'll be stupid enough to go the Leadman route.

View of Mt. Elbert from the Outward Bound aid station.

2) The Powerline climb. It's hands-down my favorite part of the course. Situated at the very time of the race when you're in the pain cave, Powerline either makes you or breaks you.

1) The motto of the race series provides the secret to finishing. It comes down to, "You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can." Another favorite: "Dig deep."

Bonus: It's often a family affair. Here's a photo of me with son at last year's race.

So there you have it. Enjoy the race, folks!

Now, go run!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pikes Peak Marathon Race Report

When we moved to Colorado in April 2010, I couldn't believe my good fortune that there in my own "backyard" (an hour away) was the legendary Pikes Peak. Within two months of arriving in Parker, I drove down to Manitou Springs and summited Pikes, accidentally going off trail (by a lot), over icy ridges (again, off trail) and through waist-deep snow en route to the top (the date was June 6, 2010). I didn't realize at the time that what looked like only a little snow on the mountain was actually a lot of snow. It was an incredibly grueling experience, but one I'll never forget because it introduced me to the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Fast forward five years. This past Sunday, I ran in my first Pikes Peak Marathon, which I was told is the third oldest marathon in the USA (behind Boston and Yonkers). Someone also told me that in the early years it was a challenge between smokers and non-smokers. This was the sixtieth running of this iconic race, which takes you from the streets of beautiful, charming Manitou Springs (elevation 6,300 feet) up to the summit of the hulking 14,115-foot mountain. Very few mountains anywhere offer the absolute gratuitous vertical that Pikes does--almost 8,000 feet of gain from the starting line of the marathon to the top. But that's only half of the challenge. Once at the summit, you run back down--an abusive pounding of your legs and hips. As my friend Mike Wilkinson says, "it's two races--one to the top, one back down." How true.

The beautiful 60th anniversary jacket and finishers medal they gave me on Sunday.
Although I've summited Pikes on two occasions (the last one being October of 2010), it's been almost five years since I was last at the top by my own power. In my last two or three summit bids, the weather forced me to turn back. Happily, I know the trail from the base up to A-Frame (which is right at treeline) quite well, so going into Sunday's race I felt comfortable with the thought of running to the top of Pikes and then back down. I had also made a point to read the many race reports George Zack has posted over the years to his blog. What I wasn't sure of was how the actual race would transpire for me. This being my first Pikes, I decided to be humble and let the race come to me, instead of jetting out of town and then crashing and burning from oxygen debt by Barr Camp--a trap many runners, even the good ones, fall into.

The Barr Trail sign at the base of Pikes. Taken in June 2010.

Before I go any further, I'll just put it out there: I finished in 5 hours, 39 minutes and 23 seconds--good for 71st out of almost 800 finishers. Not bad for a guy who's 42-years-old. As I've aged, I'm come to gain such a deep appreciation for being out there in these races and giving it a go. I'm grateful for the gift of running. No longer do I fixate on my times, though time is important to me. What I fixate on now is just the joy of doing these crazy races, and I try to maintain the deepest gratitude for the fact that my 42-year-old body still lets me run up and back down a 14,115-foot mountain with no issues at all--my quads were steel. My stomach also held up beautifully, which was such a confidence-booster after the Bighorn debacle. I think the key to my good stomach was that I'd hydrated really well in the week leading up to Pikes. I drank a lot of water. I also think my pacing on Sunday was smart. I needed a race with no stomach issues and got it on Sunday.

I took this photo on my first summit of Pikes in June 2010. Impressive, eh?

I also want to say that when I think of this race I think of Matt Carpenter. In his prime, Carpenter operated on a level I think we've never seen since. To do what he did on Pikes, at the Leadville 100 and at many other races is just crazy. People will say Kilian is just as good, if not better. Having seen Matt in action at the Barr Trail Mountain Race in 2010 (and heard lots of stories about his course record at the 2005 Leadville), I can say that the guy knew how to drop the hammer and crush his competition. Whereas Kilian has been known to wait at aid stations and kind of lolly-gag en route to new CRs like at Hardrock, Carpenter's MO (from what I've heard) was to just put his head down and hammer it from start to finish, living in the pain cave the whole time. I'm not sure Kilian could mentally deal with Carpenter if you put both athletes on the same course with Carpenter being in his prime, but maybe he could? Having said that, on Sunday I was looking for the now-retired Carpenter--thinking he might be spectating--but never saw him. I wanted to tip my cap to him (not that he'd care). The dude is a legend and I simply don't understand the times he put up back in the day.

So, in the final analysis, my result on Sunday was respectable but not great. I know that. With the benefit of some experience, I feel I could take off at least 20 minutes if I went back next year. The thing about Pikes is that it exploits so badly my big weakness as a runner. I'm not a good descender at all. If you put me on a hilly course with lots of ups and downs, then I'm pretty good. But if I have to descend a mountain for 13 miles, it's going to be tough for me. I spent the first almost 37 years of my life at sea level. My confidence on rocky mountain trails just isn't great. In the summer of 2013, having spent every day on trails, my confidence on descents was good. It's really a game of repetition. I wish I had rocky trails closer by. That's a long way of saying I'm OK with my result on Sunday because I understand who I am: A guy who works a full-time job, has a family, and lives in the suburbs. I think I could improve on my time by a good bit, but I'm happy and content with what I did on Sunday. Like I said above, I'm just grateful that my body lets me run in these races. A lot of 42-year-old men are broken down and sit around talking about the gold old days. Not me. I'm living the good old days now.

In summary, I feel like I ran a smart race. Here's how it broke down in sections:

Start (6,300 ft.) to Barr Camp (10,200 ft.): Right before the gun went off, I had the pleasure of talking for a short bit with Jeff Valliere (who I'd never met but whose blog I check now and then), JT, and Brandon Fuller. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan Reed, who I know through my work. It was good to chat it up a bit with the guys. But we all had work to do! Starting in wave two, I ran this section mostly at or below MAF. I was never breathing hard and kept my heart rate under control because the last thing I wanted was to go into oxygen debt. I got to Barr Camp, which is about halfway up the mountain, in 1:38 feeling fresh and good. A lot of people around me were breathing very hard. This being my first Pikes, I felt it was important to get to Barr Camp in good shape and then let it all come to me. The weather thus far was great, which was a relief because the forecast called for scattered thunderstorms.

Barr Camp (10,200 ft.) to A Frame (11,950 ft.): Again, I felt good in this section and stayed in an aerobic state. I hiked a few sections but ran much of this stretch. I got to A-Frame, which is an emergency shelter right at treeline, in 2:23. A-Frame is at mile 10.2. It could be said I was sandbagging it a bit as I was aerobic at nearly 12,000 feet, but I really wanted to save "something" for the section above treeline because I knew it would be terribly difficult. I noticed that the sky started getting cloudy but I saw no immediate threats from Mother Nature. All good.

A Frame (11,950 ft.) to the summit (14,115 ft.): From A Frame to about 13,000 feet, I felt reasonably good. At one point, I even teased JT about hiking when this was a running race. JT went on to have a really strong race, besting me by 14 minutes. But then above 13,000 feet it got really hard. That high, the trail is rocky; the frontrunners are coming back down (meaning you have to yield to them); and you're operating at about 50% mental capacity. It's really a game of just putting one foot in front of the other and remaining calm. I got passed by a few runners in the last mile to the summit but I didn't let it get to me. I finally reached the summit in 3:29--not bad. I remember thinking when I took my first step back down, "Overall, I'm doing OK because I've run a smart race so far. My legs are tired but they'll give me what I need for the next 13+ miles. Let's do it." I also knew a sub-5 was probably not going to happen. So my new goal was sub-5:10.

Summit (14,115 ft.) to A Frame (11,950 ft.): In a word, bad. The crowded trail as I was descending really got to me. Or, I should say I let it get to me. There were hundreds of runners coming up (about 700 coming up) as I was going down and it was difficult to dodge folks even as the vast majority yielded (as you're supposed to do). Still, a few didn't yield and we bumped shoulders. I found the section from the summit down to about the Cirque to be maddeningly congested. Some runners can deal with this quite well; for me, it was a slog. After the Cirque (13,300 ft.), the trail got a bit less congested and my pace picked up. Still, my quads were a bit weak and I started to worry. I decided the weakness wasn't about a lack of strength or shot quads; it was about the thin air! I got into A Frame in a piss-poor 4:08. Sub 5:10 was now doubtful. Maybe sub-5:20?

A Frame (11,950 ft.) to Barr Camp (10,200 ft.): The crappy descending continued though my speed had improved a little. The trail was far less congested so I had no excuse for my slow descent other than it plain sucked. I'm just a really crappy descender. The mental fog that had come over me above 13K was now mostly gone and my legs started to feel better. I got into Barr Camp in 4:36. I looked at my watch and knew a sub-5:20 would be tough. But I remember thinking to myself, "Let's see what we can do in the next 24 minutes and then we'll take it from there." As I got two waters (one to drink and one to pour over my head), an aid station volunteer looked me in the eyes and said, "You can do this, Wyatt." She meant it and I appreciated her encouragement. That's how the volunteers at Pikes work; they show a lot of love. When you're the man in the arena, it means a lot.

Barr Camp (10,200 ft.) to finish (6,300 ft.): This is where I really opened things up by my own standards and felt good about my pace. I got some relief from a nice rain now coming down (which also kicked up the humidity a ton). My legs were singing a little but overall my quads were there for me and never let me down. I was in the pain cave but I knew I could stay here for a while and that I faced no threat of bonking, etc. between here and the finish. I wanted to catch that SOB, JT! A few times I glanced at my watch and saw that I was at sub-7-minute pace and it felt good. My visits at the aid stations below Barr Camp were very short and a few I ran right by. Once five hours rolled around, I did the math and realized I was probably looking at a time of 5:40-5:45. I was going to take it into the finish as hard as I could. I passed a few runners (most of them much younger than I), especially on the handful of sections where the trail flattens out and even goes up for a bit. They were walking in these sections and I just blew right by them. While the speed was iffy on Sunday, the endurance was totally there. When finally at the top of Ruxton (the street that takes you into the finish), I felt so glad that the end was near. I was happy. That steep hill down Ruxton that takes you past Hydro Street was tough but once at the bottom I was able to keep it about 7:10-7:20 pace. I had incorrectly thought the finish was where the start was but I was wrong. The finish was a lot closer; it was just off the roundabout and actually startled me a bit. What a sight!

The 1.5-mile walk back to my car wasn't so much fun.....

So there you have it. This was a phenomenal race. The organizers have every detail dialed and the volunteers were wonderful. I even got a beautiful jacket and medal. What more could I ask for?

Because I plan to return to Leadville next year, I have no idea when I'll toe the line for Pikes again, but when I do it'll be to double (Ascent on Saturday, Marathon on Sunday). I can honestly say this was one of the best-run races I've ever participated in and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Now, go run.