Monday, January 25, 2016

Training for the Western States/Leadville Double

First off, it's always nice when this blog is recognized as one of the best in the running genre. I certainly don't consider it one of the best but the recognition is nice. I am amazed that nine years have passed since I launched this site. I don't post as much as I used to, but I like to think the content is still fairly high-quality and helpful to others. My last post seems to have gotten a ton of traction. Some folks accused me of posting "click-bait" on that one but it was all genuine! Hmmm, what other top-10 lists can I think of (maybe the top-10 most annoying hashtags)?


Speaking of my last post.... Just to show you I'm not totally anti-selfie, here's a selfie I took on top of Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona last week (but not with a selfie-stick!). GZ and I were both in the area on business and met up in the morning and made our way up the very rocky, technical mountain (all before breakfast!). There were a few stretches that required scrambling and damn did I love it!


Well, it seems the lottery gods were good to me this year. I got drawn in not only the Western States lotto but also the Leadville 100 lotto. So, it'll be two hundreds this summer. Unlike other folks who seem to click off the Western States/Leadville double with no problem at all, this will be my biggest challenge as a runner yet. The two races are separated by eight weeks. If they were both flat, then no big worries. But one has 41,000 feel of combined elevation change (plus high heat) and the other has about 36K and is high-altitude all the way.

Now in my 13th year as a "long-distance" runner, I am very proud of my longevity and to have the shot at Western States and Leadville in the same summer.

In looking back on my running history, the closet thing to what I'm facing this summer came in 2009. I ran in the Mohican 100 (race report) in June and then three months later lined up for the North Coast 24-Hour, which doubled as the 24-hour national championship (race report), clocking 131 miles in pursuit of a position on the US team (came up short). I never really allowed myself to recover between the two races. I trained hard going into Mohican, cut back for maybe two weeks, and then got right back into logging solid mileage for North Coast. After North Coast, I was physically broken. I had a sore and swollen knee, a battered arch, and various aches and pains that plagued me for months. I am convinced that these injuries then set me up for the worst injury I've ever sustained as a runner--a severe case of plantar fasciitis, which came in July of 2010 and required significant treatment after I managed to somehow, on a bad wheel, finish my first Leadville that year.

I say all of that not to rehash the past but to learn from it. I will be seven years older when I line up at Squaw Valley Ski Resort this June. Reflecting on 2009, I think it was a mistake to continue logging big weeks between the two races even as it got me two very solid results. Also, I now recognize the huge base I've built over the past several years--it means something. So, with that, I have devised a strategy for this summer's Western States/Leadville double.

First off, all of the heavy training will be done by the time I go into my Western States taper, which will start two to three weeks prior to the race. The training I put in between now and then will be for preparing myself for both races. My mileage now, in the early months (January and February), is/will continue to be about 55-65 per week, and I'm hitting the weights on a regular basis in order to build the strength I will very much need by the time the summer rolls around.
  • In March, I will be up to 70 miles a week and will begin hitting the hill repeats and track workouts. My turnover right now isn't too good as I'm quite certain I'm not yet 100% post-Javelina.
  • April will be 80+ miles a week, with a yet-to-be-determined 50K race as a tune-up (Rattler 50K in Colorado Springs?).
  • In May, as time allows, I will be gunning for a few weeks of 90-100 miles, getting to the trails on the weekends for some ups and downs and as much heat as I can get. Memorial Day weekend will mark a huge training block. I will not be able to do the Western States training camp but that's OK--we have plenty of gnarly terrain here in Colorado, like the greatest place on earth to trash the quads (Pikes Peak).
Bottom line: I'll do what I can (as always).

What will be most critical is to feel some positive adaptation taking place as my training progresses and to then have a quality taper--that was certainly the case going into Javelina. Recovery will obviously be critical, so there will be some cut-back weeks to help keep me healthy and responding.

I will then give Western States my all, going for the silver buckle. I want to be running in those final 25 miles, when many are reduced to walking.

In the eight weeks between Western States and Leadville, rest and recovery will be the name of the game. Mileage will be very limited, as I'm able, and a diet conducive to recovery will be essential (lots of protein). I plan to get up to the mountains for some high-altitude hiking but will not be pushing the mileage at all. This summer, I really want to bag Mounts Elbert and Massive, Loveland Pass and perhaps even the DECALIBRON loop. It really comes down to finding the time. Time is very elusive. It's easy to be "planful" now. As the saying goes, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Whereas the goal going into Western States is to be at 100%, I will be very happy if I can go into Leadville at 80-90%. I am being realistic in saying that I will not be fully recovered from Western States by the time Leadville rolls around--not at age 43. My approach to Leadville will be to NOT look at my watch or splits at all but to instead run well within myself and finish ideally in under 25 hours. There will be no pressure at Leadville. If I need all 30 hours, then that's OK.

As I said to my wife this morning, I think all of this weight lifting will pay off when the summer comes. I feel my body getting stronger and firmer. My recovery is better. I can actually now bench press my body weight. My legs are stronger. Everything is getting stronger. In 100s, you need every muscle from head to toe.

Here's to a great 2016! Please chime in with your plans!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

10 Trends in Ultrarunning That I Hope Go Away in 2016 (Including the Eruption Over "Dale's Picks")

Some of this is tongue-in-cheek and some of this is sincere. I'll let you, the reader, decide what's serious and what's meant as fun. I'm sure some folks are going to get all twisted up over a few items listed below so let the hate mail begin. Without further delay, here are 10 trends I hope go away, or mostly go away, in 2016.

10) The beard. Every time we go up to the mountains to ski or whatever, all of the hipster dudes can be seen prancing around with their beards. Oh, how cool. Aren't you an original. Me? I still go with the Sonny Crockett five 'o clock shadow look now and then just because I can get lazy with a razor on weekends. Do you even know who Sonny Crockett is? Which brings me to....

9) Hipsters as ultrarunners, or maybe ultrarunners as hipsters. Please become original. Three-quarters of the music you listen to you don't even like. Admit it.

8) Selfie-sticks in ultras. Look, I have nothing against a selfie-stick, even though I'd never buy one. The problem is with selfie-sticks in ultras. They present runner safety issues and have no place on an ultra course or a race course of any kind.

7) Athlete ambassadors. It's one thing if you're an "elite" hawking products you use and like. Otherwise, please do not act like a sponsored athlete. I was once an athlete ambassador for Hammer Nutrition and I felt cool...for about five minutes. I even wore my douchey red Hammer shirt at a few races. Then one day I woke up, realized I was just an average runner, and asked myself, "why am I doing this crap for Hammer when all I get is a token discount and I could just as easily buy from whoever I damn please?"

6) The ridiculous argument that ultrarunning is anything other than very grassroots and a weekend/recreational gig for most of us. That is to say, it is not a "sport." Ultrarunning is for most of us a lifestyle and, to some extent, a very intense hobby.

5) IPA. (Full disclosure: I like IPA and just put this here to get people riled up. Actually, my favorite beer is Avalanche but I tend to drink more wine than beer.)

4) Public sniping and internet mobs. Between "Gordygate," "Lancegate" and the newest controversy to rock the ultrarunning world to its core, "Dale's Picks," the sniping has gotten way out of control. Rather than take to Facebook or a listserv to start an internet mob, how about write a private letter or e-mail to the party that has offended you? Better yet, call them if you have their number. And, please, no nasty websites about people whose views you don't like--yes, this is happening.

3) Bacon. It's horrible for you. I hate bacon.

2) Growth and too many damned people. Most of the time, growth is good, especially when it involves my 401K. But ultra has reached a point where growth is far-outstripping demand. We need for things to slow down a bit so everyone can catch their collective breath. This includes races that have been forced into lotteries because of crushing demand.

1) Whining. Enjoy the gift instead of whining about your ill-fitting race tee-shirt, the lack of vegan or gluten-free options at aid stations, the fact that you didn't get into the lottery, etc. (Seriously, I have never known a single poor person who was allergic to gluten. Everyone I know who's allergic to gluten lives in Boulder and shops at Whole Foods). Quit whining and just run.

Bonus:  The backlash against carbs. Not all carbs are bad.

Chime in with any other trends you'd like to see go away in 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015

On the State of Ultrarunning

So this is going to ramble a bit. Accept it for what it is--a post that goes in many directions: PEDs, "Gordygate," etc.
It's hard to believe that this blog launched some nine years ago. In the past probably two years, I've been challenged to think up good, compelling content for posts because--well, to be honest--I'm not sure writing about what I do with my running is all that important or interesting. In some respects, blogging about one's self seems kind of narcissistic, and over the years the exercise has made me increasingly uncomfortable. Then again, as a writer, I believe in the virtues of journaling. There are some journal-style running blogs out there that I read daily and find great interest in because, in my eyes, they have value in their content. So, what I ultimately tell myself when I'm questioning the value of this blog is that it's probably reaching at least one person in a positive way.

Speaking of this blog, when I started it, I was 34 years-old, had been running for about three years, and was on the cusp of my peak. I had two really good years by my own standards--2008 and 2009--where I mostly achieved my goals. This graphic from Ultrasignup tells some of the the story but not all of the story because it excludes races shorter than ultra distance.

It's impossible to ignore the drop-off after 2009, when I stopped running sub-3-hour marathons (the sub-3 is in my mind the greatest indicator of my fitness level). I think the drop-off can be traced to at least three factors.

First, there's aging. I am slower today than I was in 2009 (but not a lot slower).

Second, my volume has dropped. I don't run 100-mile weeks anymore unless the time is there, which it rarely is.

Third, moving out West in early 2010, I started running in ultras with much deeper fields. My first big realization that the game was being played at a whole different level than what I'd experienced back East came in July 2010 when I ran in the Barr Trail Mountain Race, which goes part way up Pikes Peak and then back down. I ascended the trail just fine but then on the descent was passed by scores of runners who seemed to just float down the mountain. It was astonishing.

That was a long time ago. I'm now older, far more patient, and a bit more reflective. I've also made a ton of mistakes that proved to be great learning opportunities. The biggest lesson I've learned over the years is that, while I still do OK at shorter races like 5Ks and 10Ks, longer events are my friend and I have to run my own race. At Javelina, because I ran a smart race by my own standards, I passed a ton of runners in the final 25 or so miles. In ultras, it's not how you start; it's how you finish. The runner who's still running in those final 25 miles of a 100-miler will make up a ton of ground on most of the folks in front of him/her. This is where my plan for Western States in 2016 begins and ends--run smart from the start and finish strong. Details like strong quads late in the race and heat management in the canyons are tactics within the larger strategy.

So, now for some rambling. There's been a lot of talk about the state of ultrarunning. Two issues come to mind.

First, there's the "PED issue." PEDs in ultra have gotten some extra attention after the recent North Face 50-miler in San Fran, which included a known doper who'd served a ban, and Lance Armstrong's revelation that he wants to run an ultra. A lot of folks want a testing system. I would love to see testing and would gladly take part in it because I think there should be zero tolerance when it comes to PED use. You use PEDs and you're banned for life. Period.

But what is a PED and where does one draw the line? How come caffeine is OK when it's a known performance enhancer? What about ibuprofen? How about marijuana, which a growing number of ultrarunners use in training and racing as it can help ease stomach distress and promote appetite? Where do we draw the line? If we want PEDs out of ultra, then we might need to say no to all of them, not some of them. Something to consider?

But it's next to impossible to implement such a system in ultra when there's no governing body and when races are very grassroots in terms of their organization (in most cases, it's a lone RD who already has a full-time job but somehow finds the time to get the necessary permits and round up volunteers to make a race happen). To do good testing, you need a unified system that allows for a central repository of test results. You also need enforcement. This wouldn't be cheap. With that said, the issue of testing seems to be a non-starter since you have a sport that's so grassroots and unstructured. As of now, it's a dog that won't hunt.

Bottom line: A system for PED testing will likely never come to ultra unless some big sponsors make it happen. We have to self-police as best as we can.

Second, there's the Gordy Ainsleigh situation, which could be called "Gordygate." Gordy, as many of us know, started the Western States Endurance Run and is essentially the founder of the 100-mile trail race. He is not really the founder of modern-day ultrarunning; we can give that distinction to Ted Corbitt. But there is no denying that Gordy has made a huge impact as a pioneer. When I saw him at Javelina, I thanked him for "making this happen" in the first place. Anyway, as the 2016 Western States approaches, Gordy faces the prospect of not being able to run in the race he founded. The reason is that he's not qualified (yet).

The Western States board, as I understand it, has said to Gordy that all he needs to do is finish a qualifier and he's in the 2016 race. He's not subject to the lottery; he'll always have a spot so long as he qualifies. They even extended his qualification window to include a few qualifiers in early 2016.

Some people think Gordy should have a lifetime spot without the need for a qualifier. Others think Gordy should have to qualify to access his spot. Both camps have legitimate arguments and this is certainly an issue on which reasonable people could disagree. I happen to fall into the latter camp. I think Gordy should always have a spot--always!--but I also think he should have to qualify for it just as the rest of us do. That's where the Western States board landed and I think they got it right.

Interestingly, I know a lot of long-time ultrarunners, who could be called "old school," who think Gordy should have to qualify. I also know lots of newer ultrarunners who think Gordy should have a spot for life. Where you stand on the Gordy issue has little to do with how long you've been in ultra and probably more to do with your general outlook on life and maybe even your worldview.

In ultra, no one is better than another. Some of us may be faster than others but ultimately we're all equal. We love the stories of Scott Jurek, "back in the day," winning Western States in 15 hours and change and then hanging out at the track and congratulating all of the runners as they came in. We loved hearing that Rob Krar ran the last mile of the 2015 Western States with Gunhild Swanson, who finished the race with seconds to spare and, in the process, became the story of that race.

We love those stories because they speak to the essence of ultra: though we come from different places and have different perspectives, and though some of us are fleet-feeted while others of us are cut-off chasers, an ultra brings us all together as like-minded folks who enjoy running a long way. To give special privilege to some and not all goes against what ultra stands for.

Have a very happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Ticket to Western States

On Saturday, my name was pulled in the Western States Endurance Run lottery. The invitation to run in the world's most prestigious 100-miler--the first 100-miler, the "Super Bowl of Ultrarunning," the "big dance"--is a dream come true. I have dreamt of running in Western States since I ran my first ultra a dozen years ago. It is honestly hard to believe this moment has finally come.

With a total of four tickets in the hopper on Saturday, I had a 14% chance of being selected. I had told my wife that, realistically, it would be 2019 or 2020 before I got in. By then, I'd have enough tickets to have a serious shot. But lady luck was on my side this year. When I saw my name pop up on the website, which was being updated real-time as entrants were selected on Saturday morning, I was in disbelief. It was a surreal moment. The first thing I did was call my wife. Was this really happening? Would I finally have my shot?

And to think that it almost didn't happen. I wasn't qualified for the 2016 running of the Western States Endurance Run until November 1, when I crossed the finish line at the Javelina Jundred. I went to Javelina with really one goal in mind: to stay qualified for Western States. In the process, I regained my confidence as a runner, after losing it at Bighorn, and now I've been handed the opportunity of a lifetime--a ticket to the "big dance."

Through all the growth ultrarunning has experienced in recent years, there have been a few constants. Among them: Western States remains THE iconic 100-miler in large part because it's set the standard. It is the gold standard, like Kona is for Ironman triathletes or Boston is for (us) marathoners. 

Western States will be my big goal race for 2016. I intend to give it my best. Although it's hard to train the way I used to (from a time standpoint), I will throw everything I can at Western States, because that race deserves nothing short of one's best. I will need to be ready for the 41,000 feet of combined elevation change and those sweltering hot canyons. One can run ultras for years--even decades--and never get a chance to line up for Western States. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I intend to take full advantage of it. I will soak it all up and, when it really gets tough, think about how good it'll feel to run that last little bit of the race on the Placer High School track in Auburn.

With a very solid base in place, training will begin in earnest in mid-February. It will consist of a healthy dose of volume, lots of downhill running, weights, hill repeats, heat training, as much trail work as I can get in, and some tempo efforts. Ski season will still be in swing then so I'll train hard on weekends we're not skiing--basically I'll be opportunistic. Then in early April, when ski season is behind us, I'll really crank it up.

I also intend to line up for Leadville in August, assuming my name is drawn in that lottery, too. The challenge of two iconic hundreds in one summer practically intoxicates me with excitement. The two races are separated by about eight weeks. Recovery between the events will be critical.

In due time, the details will be worked out. For now, I'm just elated beyond belief to have a ticket to one seriously bad-ass 100-miler. And I'm hoping to get back to Leadville for what will be a summer I'll never forget. Let's get it on.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Uncertainty and a Rant About Selfie Sticks

With the racing season over (except for maybe a yet-to-be-determined 5K in December), my attention has turned to next year's schedule. At this point, all I know is that in 2016 I want to run a Boston Marathon qualifier in a spring road marathon and yet again finish a 100-miler, preferably Western States and/or Leadville. There are a couple of scenarios that I'm turning around in my head:

Very Awesome (Dream Scenario)
Under this scenario, my ~14% chance of being drawn in the Western States Endurance Run (I have four tickets in the hopper) has come through and I'm one lucky bastard. That would mean:

Colorado or Colfax Marathon - May
Mount Evans Ascent - June
Western States 100 - June
Leadville 100 - August

So, the big thing out of that schedule is a Western States/Leadville double, which I swore I'd never do but, damnit, if I get into States I just don't think I could skip another year of Leadville. The name of the game in the eight weeks between Western States and Leadville would be recovery, limited maintenance running, and acclimatization. Eight weeks comes out to 56 days--that should be plenty of recovery time. Also in the mix under this scenario: the Mount Evans Ascent, which--for a road guy like me--is an absolutely awesome high-altitude race.

Somewhat Awesome But Has Already Been Done
Colorado or Colfax Marathon - May
Leadville Trail Marathon - June
TBD 50K - July
Leadville 100 - August

Next Saturday, when the Western States lottery drawing takes place, I'll have answers. But I'm also mindful of the fact that Leadville, too, has a lottery. So, nothing is a given. If I strike out on both, well, maybe I'll go back to Bighorn and get revenge. That race is on the revenge list and one of these days I will return for redemption. But I very much am hoping for at least Leadville. I desperately want to return and get my fifth sub-25 buckle after taking 2015 off. I learned in 2015 that Leadville is just what I do--it's a race I love and it's a race that is close to my heart in every way.

With Javelina now in the rearview mirror, I continue to reflect on that entire experience. The narcissistic absurdity of "runners" carrying/using selfie sticks and talking and texting while running (meanwhile, my iPhone was 3 miles away in my parked car), it was simply an amazing race. I am satisfied with my result, though I know I could shave off at least one hour by doing a few things differently (such as not puking in the heat of the day). I am very confident I'll return to Javelina one day--it's too awesome of an experience to be one and done. My reflection has brought me to two concrete conclusions that I think will benefit me in future 100-milers:

1) My training for 100s has to center around aerobic development (basically MAF), with limited quality sprinkled in--namely weekly hill repeats and some tempo running. When it comes to training for 100s, there are many ways to get it done and we're all an experiment of one. For me, it's a game of being aerobically fit and putting in volume. Period. I was very aerobically fit at Javelina and it's because of the way I trained--I stayed in zones two and three most of the time and that's what I need to be fit for 100s. For marathon training, it's a whole different game--lots of quality.

2) Upper body and lower-body weight training is critical. I can't say enough about how critical weight training is at least for me. The payoff is huge. I am stronger. My pace gets faster because I'm more efficient. I seem to recover faster. Weight training helps everything click the way it should. If you're 40 or older and not weight training, you should consider starting because you're likely losing muscle to Father Time. The many frustrations with my performance that I've had in recent years probably stemmed from muscle loss due to aging. I'm now reversing that process and I can feel the difference. Another benefit of weight training for guys: It promotes testosterone production (no explanation needed).

Bonus insight: For me, the key to nutrition in 100s is that everything has to revolve around taking in lots of water and using ice to keep myself cool. If I take in some soda or sports drink, or even some potatoes, I have to wash it down with water. Water seems to go a long way in keeping my stomach problems at bay. Then there's ice: It's the single best way for me to stay cool.

Just to quickly circle back to selfie sticks in ultras (and really selfie sticks in general): If they're here to stay in ultras, well, I won't be sticking around long. I hear they have 200-mile races now. Maybe in those, the selfie stick/hashtag people will be kept far away. I am hoping that at Leadville in 2016 there will be no selfie stick-carrying "runners" who hashtag to death their every narcissistic social media update as they make their way along the 100-mile course. Here's the deal: Ultrarunning and selfie sticks don't mix. I would also say ultras and hashtags don't mix but I know some really good runners who use them on Facebook (I try not to let it get to me, though I do admit to using hashtags on Twitter but that's purely a work-related account).

Bottom line: Selfie sticks should be banned at all ultras (I'm pretty sure they're banned at most road races). They are a danger to runners because they create a distraction. Beyond that, they are just annoying, narcissistic and absurd.

Grumpy old bastard rant done.
So, with that, here's to the lottery gods showing some favor. But even if I don't get into Western States in 2016, that's OK. I'll keep qualifying and entering and then my lucky day will come.

Now, go run.

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. :-)