Monday, April 29, 2013

Cheyenne Mountain 50K Race Report

Now in its third year, the Cheyenne Mountain 50K promises both a challenge and plenty of good times. Saturday’s race was my third Cheyenne Mountain 50K and I have every intention of making this an annual event. I finished twelfth overall with a time of five hours and ten minutes—7 spots and 20 minutes off last year’s result (but 15 minutes better than my 2011 result). When I crossed the finish line, I had run 83 miles in the past seven days, despite a low-grade, annoying stomach ailment all week. Clearly I didn’t really taper for this race and so I was pleased overall with the result.

Held on the south side of Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs, the race involves two laps on something of a 15.5-mile figure-eight course consisting of a few respectable but certainly not steep, scary climbs. The entire course is under 7,000 feet, making it quite tame as far as elevation. In my opinion, the southern-most loop of the figure-eight is the more difficult of the two.

Heading into the race, my fueling strategy consisted basically of water and Honey Stinger gels. I’d used Honey Stinger gels on a few runs in which I tried to go as long as possible without calories, and going into the race they seemed to do a decent job. I also thought the honey in these gels would help keep my stomach happy. Again, I’d battled stomach problems for the better part of the week—a bug I likely caught from my son.

Sure enough, only a few miles into the race my gut started hurting. I wore a waist pack and it put a lot of uncomfortable pressure on my gut. The problem only worsened, leading to not only stomach pains but also nausea. I continued to fuel on Honey Stingers and water and took a few Fig Newtons at various points in the race, all the way staying calm and just trying to execute. I ran the hills but my climbing legs clearly weren’t at their best. I came through the halfway point in 2:17—two minutes off last year’s time. For the first 20 miles I ran in the top 10, almost every step with the eventual women’s winner and course record setter, Amanda Ewing, but I felt my energy waning and my stomach getting unhappier with every step.

At about mile 22, with the temperature in the low 70s and the sun out in full force, I ran out of gas and started walking. Amanda passed me and I didn’t see her for the rest of the race. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why I’d run out of energy since I’d been fueling on Honey Stinger gels. But then it hit me that I’d bonked, and I also figured my stomach ailment had taken a toll, as well. At the 24.5-mile aid station, having death-marched the last few miles and been passed by a few runners, I took a Hammer gel and some water, and then continued on my way—still reduced to hiking. To say I hit a low spot, both physically and mentally, would be an understatement. I’d never hit a low like this in a 50K.

But then, around mile 26, I started to feel some energy come back and began running again. My legs seemed to come alive after basically shutting down on me. Was it the Hammer gel? After mile 26, I could run the flats and downs, albeit not as fast as I wanted, and jogged/hiked the ups. I still wasn’t in super shape, but I was far more functional than before. In times like these, you have to take baby steps. After four really rough miles, it was heartening running down the trail and knowing that, with each step, the finish neared. I took another Hammer gel at the mile-28.5 aid station, nearly gagging in the process, and mostly ran into the finish, save a few hikes on the ups.

About 100 meters from the finish, I got chased down by another runner. Without even thinking, I hit the gas and we both blew into the finish line, crossing literally at the same time. It was truly a photo finish. On chip time I beat him by one second! I have good closing speed but his closing speed was a bit better, and so it took everything I had to try to hold him off. My hat’s off to him for a really badass chase-down.

Unfortunately, that sprint finish pretty much finished me off. As soon as I crossed it was like someone turned out the lights. Everything went black and I immediately sat down on a rock—a crumpled mass—with my head between my knees. The entire experience is foggy. All I remember is Scott W. standing over me asking if I was okay. At that moment, I felt hideous. After downing a few cups of water, I hobbled to my car and began the long drive home, nearly throwing up at a 7-Eleven a few miles up the highway. Clearly my blood sugar had plummeted. A few Coca-Colas and a Gatorade on the drive home made a big difference, but it was rough trip, to say the least.

This was a good training run and it was great to see friends, such as Scott W., AJ, JT, Andy, Shad and others. I only wish I could have stuck around longer and enjoyed the post-race festivities and chicanery but Anne was on call at work, and so I had to get back to Parker ASAP for emergency kid duty.
As far as what's next, I’m not that sore, which surprises me a bit. On Sunday morning I got in a little over 9 miles with our dog and I could have run much farther. So it appears I got through Cheyenne, though a tough race for me, without much lasting soreness or damage—a good thing as I continue to ramp up for the Leadville 100. My next race, as of now, is the Leadville Trail Marathon in late June. Between now and then I have lots of trail running and climbing to do.

Congrats to all finishers!

Other reading:


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pre-Cheyenne Mountain 50K Thoughts

Another very solid week (Apr. 15-21) is in the books. I finished off a 77.25-mile week with a 21-miler on the Highlands Ranch backcountry trails. I climbed a decent 1,800 feet on that run--not bad at this point in my Leadville 100 training. I ran every day this past week, but never felt like I was pushing the envelope much. I could have easily fit in another 10 miles and still felt good.

I feel like I'm in decent, but not super, shape going into the Cheyenne Mountain 50K this Saturday. My endurance is good, but my speed and strength are a bit off (I've been doing MAF training for a few months now). This time last year I felt in very good shape, and of course we know how the summer ended (with a bum knee, messed up Achilles and nasty Leadville DNF). My big concern this summer is not peaking too early, as I did last summer, because that'll mean I go stale by Leadville and then risk injury. So, to me, it's good that I'm not yet firing on all cylinders. The gradual build-up, with proactive recovery sprinkled in, continues. By July I'll be hitting triple-digit weeks with some big, big outings in the mountains. Now's not the time for that.

One of the big tricks with peaking is that there's a fine line between being in peak shape and being overtrained. It's an art, not a science, and I'm still figuring out the right plan for me. Only once have I been in truly peak shape, and that was June 2009.

Taking the long view, I think my approach at this Saturday's 50K will be to run conservatively (probably at MAF pace) for the first 15.5-mile lap of the Cheyenne course and then get after it a bit in the second half. Last year I went hard out of the gate and faded a little in the end, still finishing fifth overall. The Cheyenne course is challenging but not super hard. It has some technical sections and the second part of the figure-eight loop can beat you up, especially in the last half of the race. The overall key is to remember that this race is part of a process as I prepare for the Leadville 100. For me, nothing but Leadville matters. I haven't been this focused or motivated in a long time.

In other news, I registered for the Leadville Trail Marathon in late June. This will be my fourth Leadville Marathon. Like all Leadville races, it's a very tough course, reaching 13,185 feet at the turnaround point. I think the Leadville Marathon is a very underrated race. It will destroy you if you don't know what's coming.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Stoutest Records in Ultrarunning / Training Update

First off, a word on my poll (which is still open!). The question is, what's the stoutest record in ultrarunning? The choices are:
  • Bruce Fordyce - 4:50/50 miles
  • Yiannis Kouros - 188 miles/24 hrs.
  • Timothy Olson - 14:46/2012 WS100
  • Don Ritchie - 6:10/100K
  • Ann Trason - 14 WS100 wins
  • Matt Carpenter - 15:42/Leadville 100
  • Karl Meltzer - 35 career 100M wins
I realize that we could add quite a bit to that list (e.g., Kyle Skaggs’ Hardrock record, Scott Jurek’s seven consecutive Western States wins, Oleg Kharitonov's 100-mile record, etc.). In the interest of simplicity, I selected the records that most stood out to me.

To me, the most impressive record is Kouros’ 188 miles, followed by Don Ritchie’s 100K mark. Let me explain why by first eliminating the others.

Olson: I believe Tim Olson's 2012 Western States record, how ever amazing it is (and one could argue Ellie Greenwood’s 2012 record is even more impressive), will fall if the weather cooperates (a big if) and/or a world-class runner like Olson himself, Max King, Kilian Jornet, etc. has a very good day (entirely possible). The Western States record has fallen two times in the past three years. Who's to say 14:46 is the lowest it's going to get? Disclaimer: One might ask why I didn’t include Ellie Greenwood’s 2012 Western States record on the list. My reason: I believe it’s an indication of more to come from Greenwood. I also think Lizzy Hawker could make a run at it.

Fordyce: A few runners have come close to Fordyce’s nearly 30-year-old record, in which he averaged a blistering 5 minutes, 48 seconds per mile for 50 miles (equating to nearly two consecutive 2:33 marathons). There are world-class marathoners who could probably make a run at that pace for 50 miles if they trained specifically for it. Right now, there’s just not much interest in going hard and fast for 50 miles on the road. A prize purse could change that. Someone (Josh Cox? Sage Cannady? Max King?) needs to give it a go!

Trason: Ann Trason’s 14 Western States wins is an incredible record and I think it's in the conversation with the most ridiculous records of all time, but I think many of us agree that there are runners today, such as the Queen herself (Ellie Greenwood), who are perhaps capable of even more. Pound for pound, Ellie Greenwood is in my opinion the best overall ultrarunner in the world (how many runners out there can finish second at Comrades and then break the record at Western States?). She’s smart and, if she stays healthy, she’s going to break most, if not all, of Trason’s records. Of course, that would require her to remain a world-class talent into her mid-40s—a tough, though doable, proposition (see Nikki Kimball, Connie Gardner et al) if she wants it. And it would require a conscience, sustained effort to break Trason's records.

Carpenter: Carpenter’s Leadville record, which I would elevate above Kyle Skaggs’ Hardrock record (which I think Kilian Jornet or a healthy Anton Krupicka will eventually break) and maybe even above Olson’s Western States record, hasn’t been seriously threatened yet, though Anton Krupicka certainly went after it a few years ago. I think many of us would agree that a guy like Kilian Jornet could make a run at it, but it will require a perfect day. Running at that pace at 10,000+ feet for 100 miles, with the Hope Pass double crossing, is crazy stupid. In his prime, Carpenter could have beaten anyone on any day and should have bagged the course records at Hardrock, Wasatch and maybe Western States, but he never did those races. The guy was super human and a downright freak in terms of mountain running skills. His 2:01 ascent of Pikes Peak is--well--freakish.

(Matt, if you're reading this, I'd love to interview you for my blog!)

Meltzer: Melter has won 35 100-milers and there’s every indication he’s going to keep adding to that number. Some people accuse Meltzer, who is a runner I very much respect, of cherry-picking races. That may be true in a few instances, but what about his many victories at top races like Hardrock, Wasatch, Massanutten, Run Rabbit Run, San Diego and Bear? That said, there are guys like Hal Koener who could beat Meltzer’s mark if they stay healthy. Yes, that would require some cherry-picking. And while on the topic of Speedgoat Karl, I truly think he's going to kill it at this year's Western States. The guy may be in his mid-40s, but he's running very well right now and it wouldn't surprise me if he finishes on the podium especially if it's a hot race and there's lots of carnage at the front. Yep, I just said that.

The GOAT (Greatest of All Time): Yiannis Kouros
In the end, I give the nod to "the Great Greek," Yiannis Kouros, with honorable mention to Ritchie. When Yiannis Kouros ran 188 miles in 24 hours in 1997, he said his record would stand for generations. The man has never been one to overstate things, which is to say he knew at the time that what he'd just done was even crazier than a one-in-a-lifetime feat. No one has come close to his 24-hour record since then. The current American record is a stout 172 miles, set by Mike Morton—that’s a full 16 miles short of Kouros’ mark. Kouros, like Carpenter, is from a different planet.

As for Ritchie, he average 5 minutes, 57 seconds per mile for 62 miles. While I can see a world-class marathoner making a run at Fordyce’s record, I’m struggling to see how they could hold a similar pace for an additional 12 miles. I see Ritchie’s mark standing for a while longer. If road ultras ever go big money, it might fall.

So there you have it! Please chime in with your thoughts!


Last week (Apr. 8-14) was dedicated to recovery and that meant about a 25% drop in my mileage. On the week, I logged 57 miles, a full 20 fewer miles than the previous week’s 77. I ran six of the seven days and finished off the recovery week with a 15-miler on the hilly Highlands Ranch backcountry trails, fighting vicious gusts.
I’m still trying to figure out what proactive recovery means. Does it mean a reduction in miles while still running the same number of days as usual? Or does it mean extra days off from the normal routine? Or does it mean some of both? The good news is that I’m still early enough in my Leadville 100 training to experiment a bit with recovery and see what my body and mind need.
These past few months have been interesting, to say the least. I’m starting to see the value in simplicity. Rather than do lots of crazy, elaborate stuff with my training, I think I just want to run a bunch. I often daydream about long runs in the mountains (shirtless, of course) and big excursions to Leadville to train on the course. I know that, when winter finally blows through here and the snow recedes, those opportunities will come. I plan to take full advantage of the summer! But I don’t plan to make my summer all about Leadville, as I’ve done in the past. At this point, what’s most important to me is enjoying the summer and having good times with family and friends.
I’m dedicated to my Leadville training but I’m allowing myself to feel any pressure. Pressure is what takes the fun out of training and racing. And why even feel pressure when it’s all self-inflicted and not at all coming from anyone or anything else? Without pressure, you’re left to enjoy the simple act of running. If that simple act involves 100 miles a week, that’s great. If it involves 70 miles a week, that’s great, too.
Next Saturday I'll be lining up for my third consecutive Cheyenne Mountain 50K. Last year's race went pretty well, as I finished fifth overall with a 4:50, though I weakened a bit in the end. The year before that (2011), I ran the race mostly as a training run and finished strong as an ox. This year, I'm not sure what I'll be looking for. But right now I'm in decent shape and I look forward to upping the volume a bit more and gradually adding in some quality starting in May. The Cheyenne course plays to my strengths--it's mostly below 7,000 feet of elevation and it's hilly terrain with no big climbs. In the past, I've raced well on such terrain. The one big X factor is that Cheyenne has some technical spots and I haven't done much technical trail running yet this year.

For this week (Apr. 15-21), I'm putting in between 75-80 miles and on Sunday will go 22-25 miles on the trail. It's entirely possible I'll train right through Cheyenne, skipping any kind of taper. I'll make a decision on Sunday night!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Talk Ultra

Just when I think I know all of the ultrarunning media channels out there, I discover Talk Ultra. Hosted by Ian Corless, an accomplished endurance athlete, Talk Ultra is a regular podcast show featuring interviews with many of the top ultrarunners and running experts in the world. The show is very international in nature, which I like. But what I most like about Talk Ultra is that each show is very long--upwards of 2-3 hours--and includes several different interviews, giving me great variety and a deep-dive into a sport I so love. I also love the fact that Karl Meltzer, who has always been a runner I look up to (and who coached me in 2011 when I ran 22:35 at Leadville), is a regular guest on Talk Ultra via its "Meltzer Moment" segment. Ian Sharman also makes regular appearances. Finally, I think Ian Corless' accent is just simply cool.

Last night and this morning I listened to the latest Talk Ultra show, which features a fascinating interview with Dr. Phil Maffetone, who pioneered the Maffetone Method and talks with Ian about training, nutrition and running in general.

I am super excited to listen to the many other Talk Ultra episodes as my Leadville 100 training continues to ramp up. If you haven't yet listened to Talk Ultra, be sure to check it out. You can download the episodes via its website and iTunes.


Monday, April 8, 2013

77-Mile Week; Saucony Pro Grid Omni 11 Review

Last week’s training was pretty solid—77 miles, over 10 hours of running and a 20-miler to cap off the week. Even better, I took Monday off! So the 77 miles came over six days. I ran every mile at MAF. Sunday’s 20-miler, which started and ended at the Bluffs in Highlands Ranch and included some dirt trails I’d never stepped foot on, was an excellent effort. Cruising along at MAF, I felt like I could run forever. I averaged a little over eight minutes a mile and got in 1,500 feet of climbing. I know that as the summer comes, the Bluffs, while a great place to get in the miles, won’t adequately prepare me for Leadville. But for right now, as I’m still in my base-building stage, the Bluffs is a great place to run.
It’s becoming clear to me that MAF is the ticket to better endurance—at least for me. When I’m at MAF, I’m strong and don’t seem to fatigue nearly as fast. One of the big benefits to MAF is that it improves your ability to burn fat while on the run. On Sunday, I didn’t take a gel until mile 16. I could have probably done the entire 20 without a gel, but the last 4 miles would have been a slog. Instead, I took the gel and finished strong. When I was training for Phoenix over the fall and winter, I found I had to take a gel around mile 13 of a long run (granted, I was going much faster). My goal is to eventually get through a long run of 20-25 miles without the need for any carbs. Even the leanest athletes still have plenty of fat to burn. So often in ultras, fat is our fuel. We need to learn to use it efficiently. In marathons, where you’re going much faster, it’s a different story.
So last week marked my seventh consecutive week of 70 or more miles. For March, I hit 323 miles, which is pretty decent. This week (Apr. 8-14), I’m going to take my foot off the accelerator and actually give my body a rest. I’ll probably run about 50 miles this week. Then next week (Apr. 15-21), the foot is back on the accelerator and I’ll gun for 80 miles and a long run of 20-24 miles. I haven’t decided what my approach will be the week going into the Cheyenne Mountain 50K (Apr. 22-28). Part of me wants to train right through Cheyenne, while another part of me wants to give it a race effort, which would require a short taper.
What’s most important to me is to stay healthy and peak at just the right time—mid August. I tend to get in shape fast and then go stale and get injured. I can’t let that happen this year, which is why I’m doing MAF right now. I'm going to stick with MAF through April and then gradually implement quality in May (which will require going beyond MAF), starting with fast hill repeats to build strength. Once my base-building is done, I'm going to treat myself to a fun day in Boulder sometime in May. This will involve tagging Green Mountain, South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak and potentially Sanitas.


I’m going to give a quick shoe review. The Saucony Pro Grid Omni 11 is hands-down one of the best road shoes I’ve ever worn. I think a big reason why I came down with metatarsalagia last fall (I’m still rehabbing from it) was that I was wearing shoes with too much heel lift, placing a huge amount of pressure on the balls of my feet. After a lot of research and scrutiny (Runner's World's shoe review was very helpful), I found that the Omni offers really good forefoot cushioning and only moderate heel lift (about 8mm). It has great support, which is a big plus for the high-mileage runner, and it's only about 11 ounces. On paper, this shoe looked perfect for me. And, happily, in practice it’s been everything I hoped and more. I’ve put 150 miles on my Omnis and I’m now a believer in them. Saucony, please don’t change this shoe one bit!
Saucony Pro Grid Omni 11

So, if you are a midfoot or forefoot striker and looking for a really supportive, cushioned shoe, check out the Omni! 

I’ve also purchased the new New Balance 1210 Leadvilles, a highly anticipated shoe that's apparently been built just for the Leadville 100 runner, and the Mizuno Wave Ascends. While so far I like both of these shoes, it’s too early to offer reviews. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Skiing and Leadville

To start things off, I think I’ll focus some (wasted) energy on a certain online message board that claims to be about running. In reality, this message board, which I won't dignify by using its name, seems to attract a lot of (anonymous) haters who dislike ultrarunners. I rarely visit the message board, mostly because its vitriolic rhetoric is a waste of my time. Occasionally I take a peak at the carnage, like when Paul Ryan, shortly after joining the Romney ticket, was exposed for lying about his marathon time. Afterward, I usually feel like I need to take a shower.

Anyway, I don’t understand why people, cloaked in anonymity, enjoy being jerks while they hide behind their “computers.” Many of us have had a few bad moments online, but there are a huge number of people out there who use said message board to bash and ridicule others--a certain high-profile Spanish ultrarunner, who seems like an awfully nice kid and has lungs the size of beach balls, is the latest victim. Frankly, I find such behavior disgusting and really just the sad, pathetic result of mostly insecure people who are miserable with their own lives and seek to pick on others. It would be great if the online anonymous hating, like what we often see on said message board, just disappeared in the name of people being nice to each other. This message board is, as one friend recently said, a "toilet." I don't know about you, but I'd prefer not to hang out in a toilet.

The larger point I’m trying to make is that our world is filled with too much negative energy. From websites like said message board, cable news and talk radio shows to the local headlines and mean-spirited gossip (which many of us find ourselves engaging in now and then—I caught myself doing so on Sunday), negative chatter seems to be the new American way. Anne and I have been debating turning off our cable service, but then I would miss the Tour de France in July. I am very glad I have the opportunity to get away from the noise and spend time alone and outdoors, doing what I love, which is running. And, of late, we can add skiing to my list of loves.

On Saturday, we ventured up to the mountains to get in some skiing. This was my first time skiing in many years. I’d been avoiding the slopes all year because I’ve never been good at it and didn’t want to risk injury. Truthfully, the last time I skied was maybe 1996 (at either Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania or a remote mountain town in Bulgaria while an exchange student—seriously), when I was starting to get fat, out of shape and happy on cigarettes. I did snow board a few years ago, but that doesn’t count.

So on Saturday, I swallowed my pride and took a beginner ski class, quickly discovering that maybe years of trail running have helped me develop the balance, strength and overall athletic prowess to ski decently. Within a few hours, I broke off from the beginner group and hit a few slopes, gradually upping the ante with every descent. While I still have a long way to go in achieving speed and nimbleness, I couldn’t have been more pleased with how things went on Saturday. There are few things more fun that skiing down a 12,000- or 13,000-foot mountain, especially when it’s with your wife. The whole experience kind of lifted me, literally and figuratively speaking, out of the reality of everyday life. I can’t wait until the little guy, who is still learning the fundamentals, is able to hit the big slopes with his mom and dad. I have every intention of being the kind of dad who is still able to kick some butt when I’m 50, 55 and maybe even 60, versus a dad who’s broken down and can barely get out of the recliner.

The bottom line is this: I believe I have a chance at being a good skier and I credit ultrarunning. Saturday's experience in the mountains just reaffirmed my long-held belief that trail ultrarunning, especially when it involves huge rocky descents, narrow ridge lines and other dangers, requires some real athletic skills--skills you won't develop on the road. And I say that with nothing but love for the road. I enjoy road running, but at the end of the day trail running is the best.

So add me to the huge list of Coloradans who love skiing. I see it as a great way to truly enjoy the mountains in the winter and early spring, bond with your loved ones and get in some really solid cross training.

My base-building for the Leadville 100 continues to go well. I just wrapped up my sixth consecutive week of 70+ miles. My emphasis right now is on doing lots of runs but no single runs that will break me down (the longest I'll go right now is 14-17 miles). I'm now going to start stretching my long run, though. My aerobic efficiency has definitely improved, though I’m noticing some allergies, which can sometimes reduce my breathing capacity. I'm not taking in any calories on my runs--with MAF, the emphasis is on fat-burning. I’m planning to stick with the Maffetone Method through April, including the Cheyenne Mountain 50K at the end of the month, and then begin working in some quality in May. The key for me is to get a huge aerobic base, and big mileage, established and then gradually introduce quality. I don’t want to get in shape too soon and then go stale. I’m really pumped about getting to the trails and working in some big climbs.
At this point, I’m leaning toward adding the Leadville Trail Marathon in late June to my schedule. This would mark my fourth straight LT Marathon. For those who have never done this event, it’s seriously hard. You crest 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass at the halfway point and then turn around and run back to town, which is situated at 10,000 feet. The good news is that the last 3-4 miles are basically all downhill (on rocky trail). But you won’t find many marathons that are going to kick your butt harder than the one in Leadville at the end of June. It will make you cry for your momma.

It's good to bring your A game to the Leadville Marathon, especially Mosquito Pass: