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.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Last Minute Tips for Leadville 100 Runner

With the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run a little over a week away, I wanted to offer a few tips to the lucky runners who will be lining up at 6th and Harrison streets next Saturday morning at 4am. I won't be in the race this year (but next year I will be!) but I'll be up there pacing and helping where I can. For me, this year is about giving, not getting.

Anyway, over the years, I've made lots of mistakes at Leadville, so accept what follows as wisdom gleaned from many foul ups! Also, check out the entire Leadville section I have on this blog. There, you can read detailed descriptions of the first half and second half.

1) Stay hydrated. The race is between 9,200-12,600 feet. That high up, you lose a ton of water. The problem is that you don't realize it because your sweat evaporates super fast in that dry heat. So go into the race well-hydrated and stay well-hydrated throughout.

2) Whatever you do, get out of Winfield. Winfield is the halfway point of the race, right smack-dab in the middle of the Hope Pass double-crossing. When you get to Winfield, you might be thinking, "Holy hell, I have to cross that damned mountain again! How am I gonna do it?" You might even want to drop. Don't. Get out of Winfield and just dig deep as you go up the backside of Hope. It'll get better.

3) Never, ever drop at Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60). When you come into Twin Lakes, you might be reeling from the Hope Pass section. Sit down and regroup if you need some time. Whatever you do, don't drop! Based on the numbers alone, the odds are great that if you get out of Twin Lakes you will finish the race.

4) Have plenty of warm clothing for the nighttime hours. By warm clothing, I'm not talking about a long-sleeve tech tee. I'm talking about insulated tights, an insulated jacket, thick gloves/mittens, and an insulated hat. The temperature at Leadville can get into the 30s---even 20s--at night. The last 13 miles, which take you along the lake and into town, are especially cold. Be prepared. If you leave Mayqueen with little on and it's still dark outside, you'll soon find yourself in deep trouble.

5) Soak it all in and have fun. It's easy to get so focused that you miss the scenery and don't have fun. Here are a few spots where you should make a point to look around you and smile: Going up Sugarloaf pass on the outbound trip (the sunrise is spectacular); right after the Outward Bound aid station, look to the west and you'll see Colorado's two highest peaks--Mount Elbert and Mount Massive; and the top of Hope Pass (both ways), which is in my opinion one of the prettiest views in Colorado (see video below).

Bonus: No matter how bad it gets, remember these words: "You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can." The key to Leadville is living those words and "digging deep."

There's a lot more but those are the key tips I wanted to share. Chime in if you have some other tips of your own!

Good luck!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Going Back to Leadville, Plus Other Ramblings

Shortly after DNF'ing at the Bighorn 100 on June 20, I decided to return to that race in 2016 and "get revenge." Well, things have changed--in large part because I want to do what I love.

One thing I love is the thought of finally getting into the Western States Endurance Run. So, what does that have to do with the fact that I have registered for the Javelina Jundred on October 31? Javelina seems like a really well-organized, "fun" hundred-miler. Even better: It's a 2016 Western States qualifier. With my Bighorn DNF, as of now I have no qualifier for the 2016 Western States. I really don't want to have to start over in terms of entering the Western States lottery. Plus, I really want to finish a hundred this year. Also, I love the thought of running a hundred that's a bit on the fast side (though my understanding is that Javelina is hardly a "flat" course, and heat can also be a factor). All of that makes Javelina a perfect option for me.

After taking it pretty easy for the past five weeks, my training is starting to ramp back up. I've also incorporated weight training to help address a critical weakness that I've noticed with age--deteriorating strength. As we age, we lose muscle. This is especially true of athletes over the age of 40.

But first things first. I have the Pikes Peak Marathon in three weeks! The goal for Pikes will be a fun day in the mountains. Having never run that race (though I have gotten to the Pikes summit twice), I really don't know what to expect on race day. I think the smart approach will be to respect the mountain and go out at a relaxed pace. From what I have read and heard from a few friends like my buddy, Mike Wilkinson, you can really ruin your race if you go out too hard and run "the W's" aggressively. So, I'll be employing a conservative approach and mostly just trying to enjoy the day on an iconic 14'er. That said, it would be great to finish in under six hourss. A friend I spoke with told me I'm capable of much more but, having never raced Pikes, I'm going to temper expectations.

With my son at the 2014 Leadville 100. This photo says it all.
Another thing I love is Leadville! With the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run fast-approaching, my thoughts have turned to that race and the whole "Leadville experience." I didn't enter this year's race because I thought some time away would do me some good. So, for the first time in six years, I won't be lining up on Sixth Street at 4:00 on race morning, but I will be up there to volunteer and pace my good friend, Matt Curtis, over Hope Pass. I guess you could say that, for me, this is a year of giving, not getting, at Leadville.

While I think the year off from Leadville will do me some good, I'm definitely feeling some regret about not being up there to race. I think there are some amazing hundreds out there--Bighorn included--but I have come to see that I'm a "Leadville guy" and those races reflect who I am, what I think is important in life, and what I like to do with my race schedule. The Leadville 100 has made me suffer over the years and it's brought me to my knees on a few occasions, but I've also had some great moments up there. For some reason, I can't stop loving it.

There is something about Leadville and that whole experience that really connects with me. I think it starts with family. My son was two years-old when I ran Leadville for the first time. He and my wife, along with either my parents or my brother and sister-in-law, have been on that course every year I've run Leadville. Given all of the memories that have been made up there over the past five years, it's hard for me to just "walk away" from Leadville and find new races. I do want to run new races and experience different events (like Javelina this October), but I've come to realize that every August I need to be in Leadville running 100 miles, with my family theere with me, because it's really what I'm searching for in life. And it's kind of part of my identity. People are all the time asking me about Leadville, maybe because I love talking about it!

How I feel about Leadville really comes down to how I dress. Every weekend, I can be found in any one of my Leadville race shirts. During the winter, I often wear my race jackets. And I can frequently be seen in my Leadville/Strava hat from 2013. All of that is because I'm proud of Leadville and what I've done up there!

Christopher McDougall was right when he said in his book that Leadville has a lot of "holy shit" power. I mentioned this in a recent interview with a Runner's World writer who's working on a story about the Leadville Race Series and Lifetime Fitness' ownership of it. I also mentioned to the writer that, while it's true ownership has changed hands, the Leadville 100 (and, I would argue, the entire race series) is fundamentally the same as it was when Ken and Merilee were in charge (they're still very involved and the race team, headed by Josh Colley, is based in Leadville). It still has a ton of "holy shit" power and it has an energy and vibe that you won't find at many other hundreds. The town itself is a big part of the whole experience. What Ken says at the pre-race briefing about "digging deep" and "you are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can" really goes to the heart of the Leadville Race Series--those words have a great deal of meaning to me and they have helped me put one foot in front of the other when things turned south.

So, I would say over that the past month or so I have come to peace with the fact that Leadville is just who I am. It makes me a better person and I feel a great void when I look at my calendar and the Leadville 100 isn't on it. I regret not running in this year's race, though I do think the time off has done, and will continue to do, me some good. So, provided the lottery gods allow it, it'll be the Leadville 100 for me from here on out. And 2016 will also feature the Leadville Trail Marathon, another awesome race. And if I get into Western States next year, well, I may take on the big double in 2016!

Now, go run!