Sunday, July 13, 2014

Five Weeks Until Leadville; Thoughts on Leadville Being Described as "Flat" and Kilian's New Hardrock CR

Five more weeks and then the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run is here. My training is going really well and--so far--I'm healthy (it's not easy showing up at the starting line healthy), though this morning I endured a 24-mile sufferfest due to the heat, beat up legs from a Pikes Peak outing on Friday, and inexplicable stomach issues. While my overall average volume is down just a tad to about 80-83 miles/week, I'm doing much longer runs than ever before--and I imagine I'll hit triple digits before tapering. On the weekend, it's not uncommon to do a 30-miler on the trail. Forty-mile weekends, which include long tempo runs, are the new norm (through Leadville).

The week that just ended was pretty solid: 87 miles, 13.5 hours and 10,000 feet of climbing. Next week should be about the same except hopefully I'll get more vertical in. I'm planning a Hope Pass double-crossing--always a good idea in the lead up to Leadville. The backside of Hope Pass, which has a few very steep sections, has always vexed me. I lose a lot of time there, and it doesn't help that there are usually hundreds of runners coming down the mountain in the opposite direction (I'm coming from Winfield, they're going into Winfield).

The North Fork 50K on June 28 told me my endurance is developing nicely--probably from those long runs on the weekends. Although the 50K race didn't have a lot of fast guys or stiff competition (except the guy who won, Chuck Radford, a friend of mine, is a burner for sure and could beat lots of other fast dudes on any given day), I was quite pleased with my fourth-place finish. I felt like I handled the 32 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing quite well--mentally and physically. The altitude wasn't really a factor--we topped out at 8,000 feet a few times but over the years I've come to handle 8K pretty well. What left a lasting impression on me were the exposed burn areas we ran through as a result of several fires in the North Fork area over the years, including the very awful Buffalo Creek fire of 1996. So, all in all, North Fork was a success and I loved the fact that the race had a down-home vibe. I (now) hate the term "old school" but North Fork was just that.

It'll be interesting to see how things at Leadville go this year. My feeling is that LifeTime Fitness has learned--the hard way--what the course can and can't handle. Leadville will likely always be a big race; it's just a matter of fielding the right number of runners. I think the right number is between 600 and 700. This year, I've heard we'll be looking at 800 starters. I think 800 is manageable. I think anything beyond 800 is too much. That's just my opinion based on four Leadville 100s.

Honestly, there's no section of the course that really scares me anymore except for the backside of Hope Pass. It used to be that the Powerline climb got to me but I pretty much slayed that dragon last year as I ran up the climb. Don't get me wrong; Powerline will always be hard, but I've come to mentally understand how to handle and approach it 78 miles into the race. Conversely, the backside of Hope isn't just a mental challenge; it's physically punishing. If I can somehow minimize the damage and stay positive on that very steep, gnarly climb up to the pass and run well back down to Twin Lakes, I think I'll be in good shape for a decent finish. If you can get to Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60) in good shape, that's huge.

Speaking of which, there are still some (including someone who just did a podcast interview) who continue to refer to Leadville as a "flat" race. To me, it's just plain inaccurate to describe Leadville as flat. With 17,000 feet of climbing, is Leadville on par with Hardrock or UTMB? No, of course not. They are different races altogether, as in apples and oranges. But it's still a challenging course between 9,200-12,600 feet, with a double crossing of a legit mountain pass that will eat your lunch if you're not prepared for it. So, I think it's just ridiculous to describe Leadville as "flat." If it's so flat, why have so many great mountain runners struggled there when you look at their times at other races versus their time(s) at Leadville? Should I name some of these great runners?

Finally, a word on Kilian Jornet's new course record at Hardrock (full post-race coverage here). It's easy to cheapen Kilian's amazing career on the grounds that he's probably the richest ultrarunner (in terms of sponsorship support) on the planet thanks to his relationship with Salomon. That's the world we now live in--cheapen and marginalize the accomplishments of the successful ones. Some describe him as the "Tiger Woods" of ultrarunning, which I see as a compliment and veiled insult. Fact is, he obliterated Kyle Skaggs' course record and clearly did so with time to spare. This was a great performance and my suspicion is that his course record will stand for a long time. So, as much as I was rooting for Scott Jaime, who finished fifth overall and, to me, is someone I can identify with much easier than a dude like Kilian (although Scott is way faster than I am), I'm really happy for Kilian. He seems like a good guy and I love his passion for the mountains and his bond with other runners (during his Hardrock course record, he stopped a few times to take photos of the scenery and wait for Julien Chorier). Hats off to the great Spaniard; he's a mountain running legend.

(By the way, does anyone in the sport have a cooler name than Julien Chorier? That dude has a badass name.)

Here's a great video of Kilian, Timmy Olson, Chorier and Dakota Jones descending Grant Swamp. Watching Kilian go down the mountain, I just don't know what to say. Except wow.


Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Leadville Trail Marathon Report

Saturday marked my fifth Leadville Trail Marathon. It seems like yesterday when, one Saturday in early July 2010, I lined up in front of the Sixth Street Gym full of excitement as I was about to take on my first Leadville race.

The scene on Saturday morning was exciting. The marathon kicks off of the annual Leadville Race Series, which includes the always-competitive Leadman and Leadwoman competition. I can't possibly describe the excitement I felt as I drove into town for the race, knowing I'd not only run an awesome race but also camp out at 10,000 feet above sea level.

One might look at my result on Saturday and mistake it for a "bad race," especially given my time last year of 4:19 (which placed me 12th overall). Here's how the numbers on Saturday shook out:
  • 5:04:51
  • 55th overall out of 434 finishers
  • 6th 40-49 male out of 104
The plan going into Saturday was an 80% effort. That's what my coach and I both determined would be the soundest approach. An 80% effort would allow me to train through the race and also do something productive the next day in Leadville (like run up Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass and back, which I did). At my age, I can't afford to "race" every race; I need to pick my battles. So, this was about a long run at elevation. As my coach often says to me, "keep your eyes on the prize (August)!"

On the week, I got to 80.1 miles and logged almost 12,000 feet of vertical. So, it was a good week and the Leadville Trail Marathon and my Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass adventure the next day helped get me there.

A few thoughts on the race itself. First off, because of the deep snowpack up in the mountains (Ball Mountain reportedly has six feet of snow on it), we ran a modified course.This modified course was harder than the standard route and threw in an extra 800 feet of climbing, to bring the total on the day to about 6,300 feet. My climbing was solid; where I suffered the most (no surprise) was running downhill. I also felt the effects of the altitude at times. There was a nasty climb from mile 20 to mile 21 that got to me a bit more mentally than physically. Still, because this was an 80% effort, I didn't worry too much and instead focused on good practice at elevation. I even helped a few other runners out, giving them Salt Sticks.

My fuel of choice was VFuel gels, water and Coca-Cola. Except for a few swigs of Coke, I was entirely self-supported. Looking back on it, I probably should have had more aid station fare, but I really wanted to test out VFuel. So far, so good.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well I did on the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb and descent the next day. This is a critical section of the return trip during the 100-miler and it can break you (not even joking there; this section can destroy runners). So, it was good for me to hit this section while up in Leadville. I had hoped to summit Mount Elbert but I didn't want to tangle with the snow, so Powerline it was.

In summary, LifeTime Fitness did a nice job with the race. It was well-organized and the modified course was a great fix.

My next race is the North Fork 50K in two weeks. That will be more a race effort.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kindred Spirits

"Many of the world's problems could be solved if we just ran trails together."
--Someone

One of the things about society today that is most troubling is our penchant for labeling people and creating divisions amongst ourselves based on things like skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, etc. My experience as an ultrarunner is a big reason why all this labeling and dividing troubles me so deeply.

Let me explain.

Errol "the Rocket" Jones
Last night, I sat down and read the most recent issue of Ultrarunning Magazine. It includes a gem of a column by none other than Errol “the Rocket” Jones. Errol has been a part of this sport for decades – since the early 1980s – and has seen it all, from the Western States Endurance Run and Badwater Ultramarathon to The Bear and many other iconic races. In his column, Errol chronicles the big changes that have taken place over the years (gear, nutrition, number of races, etc.), adding in the end that the one thing that hasn’t changed is the community aspect of the sport.

Almost any ultrarunner, especially those who have completed races of 100 miles or more, will tell you that the distance eventually strips you down to little more than the marrow of your very being. This would explain why at various times in races I can get emotional, especially when I think about my family. Sometimes I have long conversations with God. At that moment in time, you are a stripped-down, naked human soul moving over the land in pursuit of one goal: to finish. You’re surrounded by dozens or maybe hundreds of other runners involved in that same pursuit. When you have that kind of dynamic, all we see in each other are kindred spirits.

And when you have kindred spirits in nature, you have love, friendship and true community. This is why in our sport the best of the best will drink beer at the finish and trade war stories with the back-of-the-packers. In large part because of what we experience on the trail, we all know none of us is better than the other, whether you finished in first place or last place, whether you are black or white or some other “race,” whether you are from “here” or “there,” whether you prefer the opposite sex or your own sex, whether you're a "conservative" or a "liberal," whether you're a doctor or a drifter living in the back of your truck. That stuff is immaterial on the trail—and it should be immaterial in life. Alas, it isn't that way in the real world; that stuff creates divisions in families, among friends and among strangers.

Because of the many powerful experiences I’ve had in races, over time I, like probabaly you and many other ultrarunners, stopped noticing skin color, sexual orientation, political beliefs, ethnicity, etc. and started focusing on what’s inside a person. Because we’re kindred spirits, we look out for each other; we help each other out, even if that means giving another a gel or half of one's water; we encourage each other, even if that's at 12,600 feet on Hope Pass. Even as many of us are out there to compete and achieve a given result, at the end of the day this is about like-minded folks enjoying nature together while puttting one foot in front of the other. When you have that, nothing else—not skin color, not sexual orientation, not politics and, in some cases, not even one's time—matters.

All that matters is that we’re in this together, doing something we all love.

If only that were the way of the world in which we live. We can only hope.

For more on Errol "the Rocket" Jones, check out this podcast.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Stretching the Limits

A lot of people have asked about my training, since I’m with a new coach. Without giving away too much info, here’s what I did last week:
  • Monday – 6 miles easy (did these on the treadmill as it was cold, snowy and icy outside)
  • Tuesday – 9 miles easy
  • Wednesday – 8x800 meters at the track (did each in the range of 2:55-2:57)
  • Thursday – 9 miles easy
  • Friday – 6 miles easy
  • Saturday – 33 miles via Waterton Canyon/Section 1 of the Colorado Trail (5,000 feet of gain on rugged trails)
  • Sunday – 10 mile tempo run (focused on finishing strong, with mile 9 in 6:39 and mile 10 in 6:40)
I hit a total of 82 miles last week.

That’s actually less quality than usual as I was still recovering from the Colorado Marathon last week and we decided to cut one quality session. Usually I do quality on Tuesday and Thursday, a long run on Saturday, and a long tempo run on Sunday. For example, this week (the week we’re in now), I’m doing track intervals on Tuesday, hill repeats on Thursday, a marathon-distance trail run on Saturday (24-28 miles), and a long tempo run on Sunday.

With 43 miles run over the past weekend alone, today is an off day. I’m not taking a step but may do some dynamic stretching tonight.

One thing I’m learning is that my focus is now on nailing my daily workouts and not on aggregate mileage as it used to be. In other words, I’m not paying attention to what my weekly mileage is or chasing numbers; I’m just trying to hit my workouts as they take a lot of focus and can be daunting at times. It wasn’t until Sunday that it hit me that I ran 82 miles for the week.

Another thing I’m learning is that you—and no one else—are your biggest obstacle to breaking through and stretching your limits. Not before Saturday had I ever done a training run beyond 30 miles, races notwithstanding. Over the past few years, my long runs have been in the 20-25 mile range. I’ve come to realize that’s too short. On Saturday, I stretched my limits. A training distance (33 miles) that had rattled my cage now seems doable.

And that’s not all. On the heels of Saturday’s 33-miler, never in a million years would I have attempted a 10-mile tempo run the next day. But my coach ordered it and I did it. It wasn’t easy, but after 5 miles things loosened up and I felt pretty good actually. It’s in workouts like these that you learn something about yourself. Today, as I rest and recover, I can look back on last week and know I put in a good one. And I'll feel the same way in a few weeks when I take a step-back week to recharge.

So far, all systems go.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Colorado Marathon - Just Another Day at the Office

Wow, what a great race. It all starts with Fort Collins, a gem of a town nestled in Northern Colorado right up against the mountains. Less than an hour from Denver, Fort Collins is the home of Colorado State University and many other major employers. Rarely will you find a town with such a bustling urban area--mom and pop shops, restaurants galore, walkable areas, bike shops, boutiques (if you're into that stuff), cafes, great pubs, etc.

The race started at 6:30AM but we had to be at the buses by 4:30. The ride up into the canyons took about 45 minutes and was relaxing as I talked with a runner from Albuquerque. The gun went off on time--always a good thing. After the start, it's mostly downhill via canyon roads for the first 16 or so miles, and then the course levels off, with a few little hills here and there. The biggest hill is at mile 19 but it's not bad at all. The race starts at 6,100 feet and ends at a little over 5,000 feet. The weather was mostly nice. When I finished just past 9:30AM, the temperature was probably 70 degrees and the sky was fairly clear.

I ran a 3:04:19, finishing 28th overall out of 1,086 finishers and second among the masters. In the last six miles, my pace slowed from about 6:50 per mile to 7:25-7:30. I didn't blow up by any stretch and never at any time was I "in trouble"; I just slowed down. I'm not sure why that happened because I did a good job of fueling; it just did. Fortunately, I kept running but at a slower pace and ultimately crossed the finish line proud of the result, especially given that I had not felt well all week and had a tweaked left lower calf. With a time that betters my Boston qualifier by more then 10 minutes, I am now virtually guaranteed a spot in Beantown next year if I decide to make the trek to the northeast (would be my third Boston).

Here's a photo my son took of me within a few steps of the finish this morning.

Yep, displaying good form, as always.

I'm still not convinced my days of sub-3s are over. I think I can break 3 again but it might have to be at a sea level race and it would need to be in the spring, when I'm fresh (versus the fall, when I'm usually a little hung over from the summer racing season).

This was my first race since last October--a 7-month layoff. I think it's really beneficial to take a true off-season. Too few runners these days take an off-season. It's the lack of an off-season, I think, that causes short "careers," burnout and chronic injury.

Next up: the Leadville Trail Marathon on 6/14!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Quality

I just wrapped up my first week of training for Leadville under the tutelage of my new coach. This is my eleventh year of running, so it’s a little humbling to basically follow a (personalized) plan set by someone else. Fortunately for me, that someone else happens to be a runner I really respect and admire and a coach who’s gotten some impressive results, making it easier to do what I’m asked to do.

I can already see that my coach is going to ask a lot of me in the way of quality, which is a good thing. On Saturday, I joined AJ, Chuck and Jon for a little over 20 miles with 2,000 feet of vertical in the Castle Pines/Castle Rock area. Then the next day I did a 10-mile tempo run with a thousand feet of vertical (12 miles total if you count warm-up and cool-down) that had me working as hard as I’ve worked in a long time. My coach has emphasized the importance of these Sunday tempo runs, also mentioning that I’ll have a break from them every now and then in order to help keep me fresh, healthy and responsive to the work.

The average weeks looks to include hill repeats, tempo running, intervals and long stuff, with easy days in between the “hard” workouts with the exception of Saturdays and Sundays. I’ll have more rest weeks than I ever would have allowed myself—again, I see that as a good thing since rest weeks are when our bodies repair and get stronger. It’s easy to say you’re going to rest more; it’s hard to truly back that up with actual R&R.

One thing I’ve quickly come to see: I love the structure of this training regimen. It’s nice to know what the plan is every day, even if the plan is just 8 miles at super easy pace. And oh yeah: It used to be that my easy pace was around 7:50-8-minute miles. This morning I did 9-minute miles and it felt great! My new guiding principle is to go hard on my hard days and really easy on my easy days. I’m trying not to get too bogged down on numbers, but I will admit that I was eye-balling 72 miles this past week and I got it. When I’m running 70+ a week, it’s because I’m starting to get serious.

The regimen I’m on now is so different from what I did last summer. Last summer, I had a blast running every day in the mountains. The average week would consist of about 90-100 miles and 15,000-17,000 feet of vertical. But almost all of it was at easy pace. It’s no wonder I got so slow. I feel like the cobwebs are starting to get knocked off as I implement more and more quality. I know that this quality will help me run strong especially on the Hope Pass section and in those final 30-40 miles at Leadville. The key is to recover as best as I can between quality workouts, listen to my body, and take advantage of my rest weeks. The good news is that I’m going to be pushed hard enough on my big weeks/training blocks that I’ll actually want to rest on my rest weeks—they’ll be rewards for working hard.

Last night, I was thumbing through some of my old training logs. It hit me that back in 2008 and 2009 I did a lot of quality—intervals, tempos, hill repeats and long stuff every week. On Saturdays, I'd go long (20+) and then on Sundays a bunch of us in the club I ran with at the time would race to the water stop and beyond (if you're in SERC and reading this, you know what I'm talking about!), making for a great tempo effort within a long run. I didn’t rest nearly enough but I did tons of quality, got results and seemed to recover fast. Yeah, the fact that I was 35 or 36 had something to do with it, but I also think all the quality paid off.

It’s good that I spent the first three months of this year doing mostly MAF running. That solid base I laid is now ready to be built on.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Coach / MAF Test

I have hired a coach to help me prepare for the Leadville 100 on August 16. This will be my fifth Leadville, and it’s fair to say the race has vexed me every year. Results from my past four Leadvilles:
  • 2010: 24:47 – Overcame hypothermia, vomiting and dehydration at Mayqueen inbound (86.5), as well as a two-mile excursion off-course (missed a turn), to eke out a sub-25.
  • 2011: 22:35 – Fell asleep while running between Mayqueen and the finish, fighting off hypothermia. The final 13.5 miles were an epic slog and, yes, included some chunk blowing (as always).
  • 2012: DNF – Knee injury, blown up legs, whatever.
  • 2013: 22:40 – After a horrible first 65 miles that included a 7-hour Hope Pass double-crossing and puking attack at Hopeless inbound (gotta love barfing 15+ times at 12,000 feet), I came alive and finished super strong. And, yep, Mayqueen inbound once again featured an impressive barfing attack (thank goodness for that aluminum baking dish).
While I’m proud of those results (except 2012), I know I can do better. That is why I’ve hired a coach who really gets this 100-mile racing thing—a runner who has put up impressive results for many years, including a strong finish at Leadville a few years ago. He’s one of those runners who has a knack for showing up for his A race in peak form. He delivers on the big day because of his training, his passion, his great attitude, his good instincts and what’s between his ears. I want to learn from him. Even though I’ve been doing ultras for a few years now, I know I can always learn and improve.
 
Tuesday of this week was day one of my training under my new coach’s tutelage. We’re starting gradually—this morning I did a few hill repeats and on Thursday I’m at the track for some intervals (though the forecasted 1-3 inches of slush might say otherwise). The weekends will see long runs and tempo efforts, and on a periodic basis I’ll have rest weeks--which I'm really bad at including in my training blocks. I’m really excited to see where this all goes.

One thing I’ve asked him to do is reign me in—I’m one of those runners who tends to chase numbers and put a lot of stock in weekly volume. And while this program will include some good volume, I know that at this stage in my running life, with a big base already laid, what I most need are specific workouts that provide the stimulus to reach my potential at Leadville—whatever it may be. He believes I can run a sub-20. I tend to look more at sub-21. We’ll see where this all goes. I don’t want to load expectations on my back—racing 100 miles at Leadville is hard enough.

***

As for what’s next, I’m now a little over four weeks from the Colorado Marathon. This will be my fourth consecutive week of 70+ miles. On Sunday, I ran 19 miles, including a MAF test at the local high school track. I just wanted to see where I am with my aerobic fitness. For my MAF test, which came after five easy miles with my dog, I ran 5 miles at 146 beats per minute (even though technically my MAF is 135-145 now) and averaged 6:43/mile. Last August, before Leadville, I averaged 6:38/mile in a MAF test. I like where I am right now—somewhat fit but not too fit four months from Leadville. My goal for the Colorado Marathon is to qualify for Boston.

After the marathon, I’ll take a rest week and then resume my Leadville training, emphasizing longer runs on mountain trails. By then, many of the trails will be ice-free. That’s when the real fun begins.