Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Grit

"Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare." - Angela Duckworth

One of the things I most love about ultrarunning--and this was on full display at the Run Rabbit Run 100-miler last weekend--is that it requires tremendous commitment to an end goal and the grit to get it done.

In a marathon, if things go south, what are 5, 6 or 7 miles of suffering (not too bad, when you really think about it)? But in a 100-mile run, if things go south at mile 50 or 60 despite all the hard work you put into your training, then you really have to dig deep and find it within yourself to achieve the end goal even if it means a long death march to the finish line (yep, been there). That requires a ton of grit, a quality that is rare in our society today. Almost everyone loves to talk enthusiastically about goals, but often goals fall by the wayside when adversity rears its ugly head. The reason is a lack of grit.

Pre embodied grit.

I told my wife the other day that I feel my single biggest responsibility as the father of our son is to teach him grit, especially in this world where we are always seeking the path of least resistance and the easy out. I am not a rocket scientist by any stretch and I have many faults (including a high level of intensity that is often a strength but sometimes a weakness), but what I do have is grit and I want to impart it on my son. Ultrarunning is one of many great platforms for doing this. He has seen me run a lot of 100-milers--some great, some OK and some very "tough days at the office." At the Western States 100 this year, at mile 94, he saw me in a bad state, mumbling to myself and the crew, "Stay the course. Stay the course. Stay the course." That was my grit coming through, and I feel it's on me (and my wife, of course) to instill this quality in our son. Because no one else will. There are so many life lessons within ultramarathons--for the runners, their crews and their families.

But grit goes way beyond ultras. We all face setbacks in life and it's important to "stay the course," adjust where needed, and never, ever give up. If you refuse to give up, you make yourself capable of achieving greatness. I really believe that. 

It's critical for children to experience failure and have to dig deep and come back from it. Call it grit. Call it perseverance. When kids are protected from failure and adversity, they are unable to develop grit. They come to expect everything to go their way and then find themselves shattered when it doesn't. That's really sad because grit in the face of adversity is fundamental to succeeding in life. Without grit, the inevitable failures life will bring--rejection, job woes, conflict, relationship strife, and various other stressors--will eventually pull you down and even destroy you. As much as we parents may want to protect our children, we occasionally need to let them stumble and fall/fail.

Well beyond ultras, there have been many times in my life when my grit has pulled me through. I lost a job a handful of years ago. I have lost friends. As a child, I was bullied. I have been rejected. And, yes, probably like you, I have had to dig deep--very deep--in long races where things went bad.

On two (rare) occasions, I didn't pull through in a race. I DNF'd at Bighorn in 2015 because my stomach blew up and I just couldn't turn it around because I lacked the fight to do so on that day. That DNF left me a shattered runner, but I picked up the pieces, started training again, and got into the Javelina 100, which allowed me to then get selected for Western States (call it good karma). I also DNF'd at Leadville in 2012 because of a knee injury that, again, I lacked the fight to deal with. We will all occasionally give in to life's curveballs--we're human, after all--but even then you have to have the grit to chalk it up as a learning opportunity and move on a better person. That's what I did after those two races.

Even now, I am facing a situation or two that may call for some grit. I'm sure you are, too. I don't know what the outcome will be but, if it's not the outcome I want, then I'm going to need to call on my grit, "stay the course," and find a way to come back better than ever. 

In closing, one of the best-ever TED Talks was by a woman named Angela Duckworth. In her talk, she goes into what it means to have grit and why grit is so fundamental to healthy child development. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Grit, Guts and Determination: 2016 Leadville 100 Race Report

The frustrating thing about 100-mile races of late is that my legs are capable of so much more than my stomach will give over the distance. Almost anyone who saw me run the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run, which took place Aug. 20-21, would tell you my legs are good for 21-22 hours on that course but my stomach just won't have it. And so it was with this year's "Race Across the Sky."

First and foremost, I want to express heartfelt gratitude to my family and friends who were on hand to support me. This included my wife and our son, my father-in-law, AJ Wellman and Chuck Radford as my pacers, my boss and her husband, esteemed co-workers, and many others. Even if you weren't able to physically be there, you were in my thoughts--especially if you're family. Everyone's support meant so much to me and I am deeply grateful for it. Thank you.

When I came into Twin Lakes outbound (mile 39.5) in one of my best-ever splits for that aid station (6 hours, 46 minutes), I felt so good. I had run the first 13 miles with my buddy, Mark, in a conservative 2 hours, 4 minutes (we had great conversation the whole way, which made a huge difference) and then really opened it up from Outward Bound to Twin Lakes. As I descended into Twin Lakes, enjoying those spectacular views, I remember thinking that I'd had a good taper and my recovery post-Western States had been much better than expected (thank you, Ultragen!)--bringing me to this almost euphoric point. Nearly 40 miles into the race, things were looking up.

Coming into Twin Lakes, mile 39.5
Upon arriving at TL at 10:46am, I looked at my family and crew and said something along the lines of, "it's too early to tell but this could be a magical day." My UCAN, Larabars, Fuel 100 Bites and water infused with peppermint oil seemed to be working. My wife was shocked by how good I looked. Off I went toward the meadow en route to Hope Pass, ready to get after that big climb, taking you up to 12,600 feet.

Alas, I felt quite labored on the climb up the frontside of Hope, ultimately coming to the realization that my climbing legs were compromised...maybe from Western States itself but likely from limited trail running in the past several weeks as I recovered from my adventure from Squaw Valley Ski Resort to Auburn. But I didn't let it get to me too much because, even with sub-optimal climbing legs, I knew I was in good pure running shape. 

I got into the Hopeless aid station (mile 45) two hours later. There, I took stock of the llamas (they always catch my eye) and recharged with some delicious potato soup before heading off for the crest of the pass. The section from Hopeless to the crest is always such a grinder for me, especially those last few steps before you hit the top, which affords the most spectacular views you could imagine. 

I was a few hundred vertical feet below the top when Max King, followed by eventual winner Ian Sharmin, came blowing past me (obviously in the opposite direction as this is an out and back course). Watching Max, I immediately thought back to the 2010 Leadville in which Anton Krupicka was at about this point when I saw him...only to blow up (and DNF) on Powerline (I have always been a big Anton fan). Turns out Max would also blow on Powerline, but credit to him for his gutsy finish a la Matt Carpenter in 2004 (as we know, Carpenter returned the next year, setting a legendary course record that still stands). 

The descent down the backside of Hope Pass was slow and goofy. I am not a good descender of steep trails. I got into Winfield (mile 50) in 10 hours and 4 minutes, on pace for a time of about 22 hours. This was about 10 minutes behind pace.

Entering Winfield, I was a bit upset with my poor descent and compromised climbing legs but the stomach was still solid and that was a huge plus. I made a point to stop at the creek before the aid station and dip my hat and Buff scarf in the cold water. Entering Winfield from the Sheep Gulch Trail, it was much, much hotter than the forecasted 65 degrees! When you're at 10,000 feet and the sun is out in full force, 75 degrees is quite warm. I needed to cool off and the stream provided some needed relief.

At Winfield, I picked up my friend and pacer, Chuck Radford, who placed fourth at Leadville last year. We decided to take my trekking poles as they'd help me on the climb up the backside of Hope. Chuck and I walked out of the aid station and up the little spur and then began running on the mostly downhill Sheep Gulch Trail, which goes on for about 2 miles until you come to the based of the Hope Pass climb. I tried to get in some calories in advance of the big climb up Hope but then it hit me...sudden nausea. I leaned over and vomited and then dry heaved. Not an ideal situation before a horrendously difficult 2,600-vertical-foot climb with grades of 30% in some spots, but in a situation like this one--which I've experienced more times than I care to admit--all you can do is get it out of your system and keep going. 

Even such, I was worried, confiding to Chuck that I didn't know if I'd make it up the mountain with my legs feeling so unresponsive on the climbs and now my stomach turning on me. Chuck was a steady hand, encouraging me to take it step by step. "We'll get this done," he said. And, deep down, I knew I would. Onward!

The climb up the backside of Hope wasn't pretty and it involved a few more puke breaks, including one very bad episode above treeline. But, step by step, we got to the top and then started slowly making our way down. By then, I was completely depleted and we were very low on water. Poor Chuck had to give me almost all of his water. I told Chuck that the plan for Hopeless inbound (mile 55) would be to recharge with some of that delicious potato soup and come into Twin Lakes ready for the final 40 miles. 

This is where I became my own worst enemy.

It was good that when I got into Hopeless I sat down and started going to work on the soup. It was not good that I ate the soup--all two cups--entirely too fast when my gut had shut down sometime right leaving Winfield. Sitting in the tent, I practically inhaled it and then--wouldn't you know it?--vomited it right back up as we departed the station. So, leaving Hopeless inbound, there I was again...depleted.

Fortunately, Chuck had the good sense to leave Hopeless with a bottle of Roctane that I nursed during the long descent back down to Twin Lakes. I told Chuck that I felt my gut might just restart at Twin Lakes, which is "only" 9,200 feet, and that between here and there I just had to grind it out. 

Making matters worse was my left knee. Descending the mountain, I felt pain under my kneecap but it didn't stop me in my tracks. I'd just have to endure it...for 40something more miles. As of this writing, my knee is improving.

In the meadow, with Twin Lakes in sight, with Chuck.

Finally down in the meadow, we forded the stream and various water crossings and mostly ran into Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60), where my crew awaited me. It was here that I also saw my boss and her husband--a nice lift to be welcomed by so many people who care about me and I care about as well. I told the crew what had happened on the mountain with my stomach but I felt determined to keep grinding it out, though--yes--I felt dejected that it had taken me a little over 7 hours to clear the Hope Pass section...yet again. Seven hours. Unbelievable.

Being attended to by Chuck, AJ and the crew at Twin Lakes.

I picked up my friend, AJ Wellman, at Twin Lakes, where I changed shoes and socks (so nice!), and we left at about 5:30pm, with our headlamp as the sun would be setting in a few hours. I had fueled just a bit in the aid station but we left with some calories, including Fig Newtons, Skratch, and a few other items. The climb out of Twin Lakes was tough, especially the lower section on the steep rocky dirt road. AJ and I both agreed that we'd hike this section and then start running once it topped out in about 1,500 vertical feet, when you're greeted with a nice, long section of trail that's buttery smooth and mostly downhill. "That's your kind of trail," AJ said to me.

Finally, when we got to the top, AJ and I started running that buttery trail and we had a good stretch going into Half Pipe (mile 70), then Pipeline (73), and then--to a somewhat lesser extent--Outward Bound (76). AJ told me I needed to average at least 15-minute miles and for most miles I was moving at about 10-11-minute pace. Although I'd gotten down a few Fig Newtons, I was mostly depleted as my stomach had never restarted as we'd hoped it would at Twin Lakes. Basically whatever I put in my stomach just sat there. I'm not sure how I kept going except to say it was raw endurance and fat burning at work!

Leaving Twin Lakes with AJ.
About a mile past Outward Bound, you're greeted by the Powerline climb. Arriving at the base of Powerline, I wasn't quite as optimistic about this gnarly section as I usually am. Powerline has traditionally been a strength of mine--I can get up and over it pretty fast and in good spirits. But this time I didn't feel quite as confident because my climbing legs just weren't there. We nonetheless grinded our way up the climb--about 1,800 vertical feet with some legitimately steep sections. AJ told me it would take about 85 minutes to get to the top, and he was right. I took a few breathers along the way and then finally we got into the "surprise" aid station. Only a few steps before the aid station, Mark had caught up with me. I hadn't seen him since Mayqueen and he was looking so good. He would go on to finish sub-24 hours and third in his age group! As for me...I wasn't looking at good as Mark.

After downing a few cups of Ginger Ale (as did Mark), which one might assume would settle a shaky stomach, I was once again hit with nausea and began vomiting right there at the aid station. Only this time it was mostly dry-heaving since I'd been running on empty for 25 miles. But this time, it wasn't just vomiting and dry-heaving; I was hit with the chills and told AJ I felt hypothermic here at 11,200 feet in the middle of no where. So I did what seemed to be the best thing to do: I took a seat in front of a raging campfire to the side of the aid station. Let me tell you, the folks at that aid station were having fun. One guy got up and started massaging my shoulders while he told me what a badass I was. After about 3 minutes of that, I felt inspired to get out of my seat and get going. I was still shaking a bit but AJ and I both agreed that the best bet was to start running down from the pass and hope to warm up versus hanging out at the top of Powerline in the middle of the night. Staying at Powerline, there in front of the fire, was a destination to no where.

What else to say about the descent down to the Colorado Trail via Hagerman Pass "Road" except that it's dark and technical. But I'd been there a few times before and knew what to expect. You have to watch your step here, but at the same time let gravity do the work. And then when you enter the Colorado Trail, a section that traditionally takes me about a half-hour to clear, the name of the game is staying upright because that section of the course is littered with rocks. We nonetheless got it all done despite a few stumbles.

Coming into Mayqueen. (Mile 86.5) at nearly 1am, I knew I needed some downtown. This was for a few reasons. First, I could barely keep my eyes open. If all I had in front of me were 5 more miles, then I'd have kept trucking along. But we're talking about a half-marathon to go. Second, I had started hallucinating on the Colorado Trail. Yep, just like at Western States coming into Brown's Bar, I started seeing basketballs to the side of the trail. So, when AJ and I got into Mayqueen, we agreed that I'd get in one of the cots and close my eyes for 10 minutes. Which is exactly what I did. I've been doing 100s long enough to have confidence in myself that, yes, I could take a short nap in a warm cot and, yes, I could get up on time and start running again. 

Man, was it cold at Mayqueen! Waking up 10 minutes later, I quickly changed into warm clothes, realizing that the stretch from Mayqueen to the finish can be extremely chilly, especially as you're coming off the lake and into town. By chilly, I mean the temperature can drop to the mid-20s. If you are ill-equipped for these cold temperatures, they will take you out of the game. I'm not even kidding.

Rejoining with Chuck at Mayqueen (the plan was for AJ to pick us up at the finish), we power-hiked most of the final 13.5 miles, with some stretches of decent running. By this time, my knee was jacked and I was totally running on empty. I did manage to get down a few more Fig Newtons but by this time the damage had been done. I didn't need a few hundred calories; I needed thousands of calories. I so desperately wanted to be hungry and indulge at Mayqueen but even then my stomach was still shut down. So the trek from Mayqueen to the finish was a grind fest.

I ended up finishing in 24 hours and 25 minutes, earning my fifth big buckle. Where does that rank among my finishes at Leadville?

  • 2010: 24:47
  • 2011: 22:35
  • 2012: DNF (knee)
  • 2013: 22:40
  • 2014: 24:09
  • 2016: 24:25
So, yeah, I'm getting older. Had I run a bit more in those final 13.5 miles, I feel confident I could have broken 24 hours, which would have been nice. But at Leadville they give you that bonus hour for the big buckle, so it was hard to convince myself to go sub-24 when sub-25 was all I needed.



As I reflect on this latest Leadville finish, I realize that I'm experiencing decreasing dissatisfaction with my 100-mile finishes. Am I super proud that I got another big buckle at the "Race Across the Sky"? Oh yeah. But I know I can run the distance so it's no longer a question of, "Am I up for this?" Yes, I'm up for it. The de-motivating aspect is that, again, my stomach keeps undermining everything even as I've tried so many different things in 100s. I know on legs alone I can cover that course much faster. But my stomach won't have it and that's sapping my will to want to keep going back to Leadville.

So will I return to Leadville? I don't know. I have the five big buckles and am battled-tested up there. What else is there to prove? Would I love to have ten? Yes. But that would require a level of commitment that I'm not sure I'm ready to make--not when the wounds from this year's Leadville are still fresh.

Next up: Some shorter, faster races. I just signed up for the Denver Rock 'n' Roll 1/2 Marathon, where I'll be gunning for a fast time.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Leadville

With the Leadville 100 now 9 days away, I am in the throes of my "taper" and starting to get the logistics (drop bags, etc.) in order. I added quotes to taper because my mileage since Western States has been pretty moderate as I've put a lot of emphasis on recovery and quality. Although I didn't have the Western States I wanted, I was fit going into that race and I am sure the fitness is still there.



It's not like I haven't been running. A few weeks ago I hit 66 miles and my weekly mileage has been in the 50s and 60s. I did one 20-miler two weeks ago and it was very easy. Unfortunately, an inner shin tweak, which is getting better, has prevented a lot of vertical but I'm nonetheless fit. Did a 3x1 mile workout a few days ago and easily went sub-6 on all of them. Wish I had done more vertical but it is what it is.

This is definitely not my first rodeo at Leadville, so I know what's coming and what's required. The big issue for me, as always, will be fueling. It is VERY hard to take in calories, especially solids, when you're running 100 miles between 9,200-12,600 feet. Over the past several weeks, I have tried different products and have developed an affinity for Fuel 100 Bites and Larabars.

With Larabars, what I most like about them, beyond the fact that they taste good, is that they pack a lot of calories and are easy to eat. Half of a Larabar is 110-115 calories and that's just in maybe 2 bites.

What I like about Fuel 100 Bites is that they're also easy to eat and taste salty. They are not sweet. The key with Fuel 100 Bites is to chase them with water. They can have a weird aftertaste but it's a quality product overall.

I have also been taking in First Endurance Ultragen after every workout. The stuff is amazing and I have definitely noticed that my recovery is improving. I have heard from a few folks that Ultragen can be effective during long ultras but I'm a little skittish about trying it in a race. Anyone care to weigh in on that?

As far as hydration during the race, I will have some Tailwind and UCAN out on the course. Additionally, thanks to some good research by my wife and the help of a friend of hers, I will have some peppermint extract with me at all times. It has been known to help prevent and alleviate nausea. You squeeze just one drop in a bottle of water and that's it. The most critical section of Leadville, as far as preventing stomach distress, is the Hope Pass section. This peppermint stuff might come in hand during those grueling 21 miles with 13,000 feet of combined elevation change.

All of that aside, Leadville is a race that requires that you refuse to give up. The last 50 miles are significantly harder than the first 50 not just because of the fatigue but mostly because the last 50 miles bring more climbing. So it's good to go out conservatively.

If this is your first Leadville coming up, the most important thing you can have on the course is warm clothing for when the sun goes down on Saturday night. The temperature will plunge into the 30s, maybe 20s. It is insanely cold along Turquoise Lake. Be ready for it. If you go hypothermic along the lake, game over.

Will post another update between now and race day!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Turning the Page...to Leadville

In the wake of Western States, I really struggled to turn the page. This was for two reasons. First, I know I was/am capable of sub-24 hours on that course. So it hurt to come up short, especially when I consider it could have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Second, it's just downright traumatic to endure what I endured at the Devil's Thumb, Michigan Bluff and Foresthill aid stations. To have gotten that much needed medical attention at those three key aid stations just sucks.

Without going into too many details, in the past few weeks I have been doing everything I could (and can) to "figure out" my nutritional struggles in 100-milers. I truly want to crack this code. I am convinced that I am doing something wrong, versus me just being the victim of a "bad" raceday stomach. I have been practicing with different products on the run and trying to get my gut used to running with calories coming in. Bottom line: I need to consume about 180-200 calories every hour. One product I really like so far is Fuel 100 Bites. They're salty, easy to get down (with water) and not at all sweet. Larabars are good, too. I'm also liking Ultragen for recovery after workouts.

After Western States, I said no more 100s. And for about a week that feeling didn't change. But, just as you'd expect, Leadville started to enter my mind...and heart. So about two weeks ago, I decided to go back and run for another big buckle. With my recovery from Western States going pretty well, I think I can give Leadville a pretty good go.

The thing about Leadville is that it's all emotional to me. When I think about Leadville, I get these images of my son, when he was 2 or 3, running into the aid stations with me. Those kinds of images stay with you, making a race very special. He's grown up on that course. For his birthday a few months ago, we told him we could go anywhere for the weekend to celebrate...and he chose Leadville. So we got a cabin outside of town that weekend and just hung out in the high county. He loves Leadville. It's obvious the area and race mean a great deal to him (and me).

The other thing about Leadville is that it has this incredible vibe. Leadville is an economically struggling town with the most beautiful mountains all around. It's beautifully imperfect, if that makes any sense--just as we are ALL beautifully imperfect creatures. The energy around the 100-mile run is addictive. The race perfectly captures who I am deep down. It has its faults, just as any race has its faults, but it's still an amazing experience. It's Leadville!

Plus, I started thinking about how I'd feel on race morning, waking up in Parker and knowing I just DNS'd my favorite 100-miler. Didn't feel good about that.

Then I started thinking about the course itself. I know every inch of the course and what's in front of me. It's an amazing course and I know what I need to do to get a good result out of the day. For me, it all comes down to getting through the 21-mile Hope Pass section without any debilitating stomach distress. I will have my trekking poles with me on Hope.

Finally, I started thinking about what I might be able to do if I could make some progress on my nutritional woes. With good fitness coming off Western States--assuming I recovered well (which I am doing)--could I potentially go sub-24 at Leadville once again? The answer to that question was, of course, yes.

All that being said, it's been hard turning the page on Western States. I felt slow during Western States...so slow that I wondered if I'd "lost it." But then a few days ago I went out and ran 5000 meters in 18:14, feeling good the whole way as I clicked off three consecutive 5:50something miles and held pace for that last tenth of a mile. Coming off that 5K, I realized I still have decent speed but I need to work on it. So I've been on the track, doing threshold work, and hitting the trails for some limited mileage, trying to sharpen the blade for Leadville.

The support I've gotten in the wake of Western States has meant a great deal to me. Thanks to everyone for their kind words. I agree with you: It's about finishing, especially when you're having a tough day. Enduring the tough days is what makes you a better person and runner.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Staying the Course at Western States

I’m not sure I’ll write a blow-by-blow report from my race at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. So much has already been said about this event over the years. Where could I possible add any value?

As with all ultras, you will never finish unless you have a Why. Going into the race, the big Why was simple: It’s Western States. As the race wore on and things turned south, the Why expanded to not just finishing the “big dance” but also to setting a good example for my son, honoring the training I’d done, and making this whole adventure worthwhile for my family and crew. Quitting was never an option.

And so in the final 300 meters when I was running around the Placer High School track, over 26 hours into this madness (I had thought sub-24 was very realistic going into the race), I talked with my 8-year-old son, who was by my side and holding my hand. I cried. I told him that you never quit, even when you’re being kicked in the teeth repeatedly. You never give up, especially when you know perseverance and resilience will lead you to the promised land. 

It was a moment with him that I will never forget. He saw me suffer. He saw me fight to the finish. He saw me show kindness to my family and crew when the chips were down. He saw me incoherent at Highway 49 but nonetheless moving forward, mumbling “stay the course.” He saw others shower me with love and care, including the race founder himself, Gordy Ainsleigh, at Michigan Bluff. My hope is that one day all of this will help make him a better man. I am his father and in that race I refused to fail him and come up short in my responsibilities as a man who is obligated to mold him into the best man he can be.

In that regard, it was a tremendous experience.

As far as the race itself, the vibe at Squaw Valley Ski Resort (where you start) is electric. The course itself is beautiful. The first 30 miles, which feature the climb up and over the Escarpment and some gorgeous running through the Granite Chief Wilderness area, is alpine running at some of its finest. The second third features the canyons—Deadwood, El Dorado and Volcano. The third section is “mostly” downhill, featuring the fast California Street trail which takes you from Foresthill (mile 62) down to the American River Crossing (mile 78). From the river crossing, it’s mostly rolling terrain to the finish, with a few good climbs mixed in.

The volunteers and aid stations are spectacular. The aid stations are well-stocked with what you need—not just food and drink but also ice, cold sponges and sprayers. The volunteers are helpful and caring. The medical staff, who I’d rather not have gotten to know (but did), are professional and compassionate.

The organization of the race is phenomenal, save a few sections where course markings were a bit sparse. But, then again, I am originally from back East, where we tend to over-mark courses with pie plates, lime and billions of streamers. The sparse markings in areas, such as the long downhill stretch from Robinson Flat to Last Chance and a few turns going up to Robie Point (the latter of which could have been sabotage), never rattled me but it would have been nice to see some more confidence markers.

Western States has built a big, strong community. The community puts this race on, with excellent leadership from the board and the race director, Craig Thornley. Few races have such a tight-knit community. This is what makes Western States unique, in my eyes.

Looking back on it, while the result certainly wasn’t what I’d hoped—I still feel I am fully capable of finishing under 24 hours—I know I ran a smart race. I went out conservatively. At no point was I pushing beyond my limits. What seems to have done me in were the canyons and the silent killer that was heat in excess of 100 degrees (which everyone experienced, of course). I fell well short in my descent of the canyons. By the time I got to Devil’s Thumb (mile 47), I was nauseous and soon after starting vomiting—probably the product of the heat, though I’d been using ice all day long to stay cool. More vomiting ensued at Michigan Bluff (mile 55) and Foresthill (mile 62). In each of those three aid stations, I was laid up in a cot receiving medical attention.

In the descent to the river from Foresthill, I had some good stretches and seemed to be coming back a bit. But by the time Brown’s Bar (mile 90) appeared, I was hallucinating. So I closed my eyes there for 10 minutes and then we got going again. The hallucinations abated and I mostly jogged and walked my way into the finish, seeing a second sunrise for the first time ever in a 100-miler.

As far as what’s next, I don’t know. I have signed up for the Leadville 100 but I am going to give it some thought. Putting myself through this process in every 100 seems absurd to me. And it takes the fun out of it. Why should I sign up for a puke-fest when instead I could race shorter distances, do fairly well and actually have fun? Running 100 miles used to be fun but in every one of them of late I go in with a great attitude only for my stomach to completely go south on me. So at this point Leadville is doubtful and that’s OK. I have finished ten 100-milers, winning one of them, and I am proud of that. Forgoing Leadville wouldn't be quitting; it would be deciding that my running has gone in a new direction. I will never quit running.

In lieu of Leadville, I would instead gun for a fall marathon where I can get re-qualified for Boston. But that decision isn’t final; I definitely realize I need a cooling-off period.

I am indebted to my family and crew for their support: my wife and our son, who are like my heart and soul; my mom and dad, who I’m sure struggled to see me in such shape mid-way through the race; Mike, who paced me from Foresthill to Green Gate; Kenny, who paced me from Green Gate to the finish; and Kenny’s lovely wife, Jonnie, who is a wonderful person and was there the whole way to help. 

Onward.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Random Thoughts a Week Out from Western States

A few days ago, I crunched the splits from my race at the North Fork 50K on June 4 and, boy, I sure liked what I saw. At mile 20, I was in 18th place out of a field of about 130. From miles 20-32, I ran the 4th fastest split of all the 50K field, moving up 10 places to finish 8th out of 128. The folks who ran a faster final 12 miles were the 1st (4 minutes faster), 2nd (1 minute faster), and 3rd (1 minute faster) place finishers.

This is just more proof that going out conservatively usually works on most courses. By the same token, it also proves that going out too fast in a race usually backfires (which is one reason why I was able to move up so much in the last 12 miles). It all gives me confidence that this strategy will work at Western States, a race that rewards patience. If you don't exercise patience, well, the "Killing Machine" will get you at some point...usually after Foresthill.

So, on race day, in the first third, I will be going out at a relaxed pace. I will do all I can to ignore the hype and instead focus on my own race. In the middle third, the goals will be to keep it relaxed and, above all else, stay cool mentally and physically, because it's going to be hot. As of now, the forecast has Foresthill at 89 degrees and Auburn at 96 degrees. The canyons will be a few degrees warmer. I will have 3-4 water bottles with me. One will be just for dousing myself with creek water and the others will be for drinking.

Approaching the race in this fashion will ideally bring me into Foresthill (mile 62) with strong legs, which are what you need in the last 38 miles when the trail is so runnable and downhill. It's in these final 38 miles, as I've read it, that the carnage is epic and those who went out too fast find themselves in the pain cave and those who've shown restraint can open it up and gain ground. My only hope is that I am not among the carnage! I know that if I run a smart race, I can run well in the final 38 miles.

I don't pretend that the race will go off without a hitch. Problems will arise. I may even puke a few times. I am sure I'm going to find myself quite hot at times. The key will be to stay calm and fix the problems as best as we can. But, above all else, it comes down to having fun. This is Western States.

In the end, I know I trained well. Could I have done a bit more climbing? Yes. But overall I had a good training cycle and put in some good mileage for a guy who works full-time and has responsibilities as a dad and husband. Plus, by race day, I will have put in 11-12 quality sauna sessions.

Speaking of sauna sessions, they are getting easier. This week I've been using the sauna at Lifetime Fitness. Their sauna tops out at 185 degrees and I've put in two half-hour sessions (this week), drinking 60 ounces of water in each. The breakthrough I have made as far as recovering from sauna session is taking an S!Cap beforehand and another S!Cap afterward. I have found that, if I do that, the next day I wake up feeling fine--no washed-out feeling, no headaches, no grogginess.

Another factor in all of this is that I'm experienced. This is my twelfth hundred and I fully intend on it being my tenth finish at the distance. I have big-buckled four times at Leadville, which is not exactly an easy hundred. Also, it's not like I don't have experience in the heat. The 2007 Burning River 100 and 2008 Mohican 100 were no walk in the park. As I recall, both saw temperatures over 90 degrees (along with high humidity).

I wish everyone who will be running Western States all the best. I look forward to meeting the Western States community next weekend and to running the most storied course in all of ultra. Only about 370 of us will have this opportunity and I intend to take full advantage of it, soak it all in, and be grateful. 

I'll try to update my blog one more time before raceday. See you in Squaw.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Heat Training for Western States

With the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run now only 16 days away, I'm in the throes of heat training. As most know, Western States is a very hot race, especially in the "canyons" section, and so it's key to go into the event ready to handle temps well in excess of 100 degrees. I'm coming from Colorado, where we had our signature cool spring. Unlike those coming from other areas of the country, our natural conditions until now (it's supposed to be 90 degrees today) have offered next to no opportunities for legitimate heat acclimatization.

With no real experience when it comes to formal heat training, I have used this great article by Badwater Ultramarathon legend Authur Webb as a guide. I have also sought some thoughtful advice from previous Western States finishers like AJ Wellman (2015 sub-24-hour finisher), Matt Curtis (2014 Grand Slam champ) and Andy Jones-Wilkins (10-time Western States finisher). As such, my heat training has focused on sauna sessions and some maintenance activities like--dare I say--driving home from work in the afternoon with the windows rolled up and vents off (I have been parking on the upper deck to get my car as hot as possible). With the weather in Denver finally starting to warm up, it will also likely involve a few afternoon runs. But sauna sessions are the centerpiece of the strategy as they are widely considered a "best practice" for Western States training (not to sound corporate).

Going into my Western States build up, while I knew sauna time would be a critical aspect, I didn't realize how physically hard it would be. The actual time in the sauna isn't what's so hard; it's how I feel the next day. More on that in a second. When I go into the sauna, it's always with about 50-60 ounces of ice-cold water in hand. And I always make a point to drink both bottles while in the hot box. I try to pace myself so that I'm drinking at an even rate for the whole time in the sauna and take that last sip just seconds before leaving. I also make a point to take an S!Cap afterward to help replace lost electrolytes, and I have found that the S!Cap does make a difference.

How long am I in there? Anywhere from 28-33 minutes at this stage. I originally wanted to build up to a 40-minute session but I honestly cannot conceive of how that might make me feel the next day. Such times as 28-33 minutes in the sauna are way out of the norm when you're looking at the "general population." Having watched a lot of people come in and out of the hot box over the past few weeks (this has offered its fair share of humor, too), I can say that the average session for folks is 4-8 minutes. No one stays in the sauna for a half-hour or even close to it. People have been incredulous when they saw how much I was sweating and asked how long I'd been in the sauna. Never mind what they say when I tell them why I'm doing this. It's all way out of the norm. And so I tell myself that, yes, this should be hard...because it is hard.

As an aside, despite the growth in ultrarunning over the past few years, we should never lose sight of how out of the norm it is to do what we do. It's easy to forget that fact because, for most of us, our friends are also ultrarunners. But the bottom line is that 99.99% of the population has no interest in lining up for an ultra. They cannot conceive of it.

Why am I finding it so hard to sauna train? I have found that the next day I usually struggle with headaches, mild dizziness and general fogginess. Occasionally it feels like a bad hangover. Sometimes it can be draining. The mild dizziness usually clears up in a day or two but it's no fun.

Having spoken with others, it seems this is all part of the process. Heat training is hard and fatiguing and that's why many Western States runners save it for the final stages. I started a week before my taper kicked in and it was hard to balance it all. So I did what I could and now am trying to get to at least 10-12 sessions by the time I'm four days from the race, when it's all behind me. While I have truly loved the build-up to Western States, the sauna training aspect has been much harder than I anticipated. I cannot imagine what Badwater heat training would call for!

If you have any heat/sauna training tips, chime in!