Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Leadville summer

With 2017 just around the corner, I may be one of the only runners without a definitive race schedule for next year. The reason I don't have a schedule (yet) is that I am waiting anxiously to hear the results of the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run lottery. The lottery results will be shared in mid-January.

For some reason, I have never been more nervous about my chances of getting drawn in the Leadville lottery! I simply don't know if I'm getting in, even with five big buckle finishes. Given that I have made the commitment to earning the 1,000-mile buckle (I am halfway there!), my hope--my wish--is that my name will be pulled from the hat and that I'll be among the lucky folks lining up at 6th and Harrison at 4am next August 19 for 100 miles of fun. Because--well--there is no place I'd rather be in that moment in time. No place.

Not to go on a tangent, but Leadville is such a unique experience. I have never run a race like it. The energy, the holy-sh%t factor...just epic. That's why I keep coming back. Leadville has become not just what I do every August; it's become who I am. When I am not in business attire, you can find me wearing one of my Leadville shirts and always my black Leadville hat. It's my identity. 


So, if all goes to plan, I will get into the 2017 race and earn that 1,000-mile buckle in 2121, when my son is 13 years-old and able to pace me from Mayqueen to the finish. And when we cross the line together, my hope is that the gift of this race will pass from me to him (unless I decide to gun for the 2,000-mile buckle!). It'll be his if he wants it.

If I get into Leadville, the schedule for 2017 will quickly fall into place:
  • Spring marathon TBD 
  • Leadville Trail Marathon - June 17
  • Leadville Silver Rush 50 Run - July 9
  • Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run - August 19
Yeah, a Leadville summer it'll be. And if I don't get drawn in the Leadville lotto, it'll be decision time. I would have two options to consider.

The first would be to sign up for another 100 in the summer and then build out a race schedule that prepares me for whatever 100 that may be...a return to Mohican? Revenge on Bighorn (if Bighorn is even open then)? Run Rabbit Run? Who knows? The second would be to go to Austin in April and try to grab a slot for the Leadville 100 at the Rattler. This option would be far from ideal and, honestly, I would probably not do it because I don't want that many unknowns surrounding a sport that is supposed to bring me happiness. So, if I don't get into Leadville, I'll likely be looking for another 100 in 2017.

So, here's to hoping I get into "the Race Across the Sky," lottery gods willing!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

That time when Gordy Ainsleigh helped me out at Michigan Bluff

Lately, I've been reflecting a lot on my experience at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run earlier this year. I am still a bit astonished I had the potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run that legendary race.

With the passage of time, the rugged experience from Squaw Valley Ski Resort to Auburn, California has become that much more special to me. With reflection, my disappointing 26-hour finishing time stings just a bit less. The narrative from that race has changed from a disappointing bronze buckle to a hard-fought, gut-testing finish in the greatest ultramarathon on Earth. The fact is that I got a chance to run Western States, and I finished it. If I'm lucky, I'll get one more chance to run it in my lifetime (my friend of 36 years, Matt Curtis, just got his second ticket back to Squaw).

With Western States founder Gordy Ainsleigh at the pre-race meeting.
Little did I realize that we would meet again......

For me, the crux of the race came down to the canyons, that notorious middle-third of the course where the mercury hits truly epic levels. Coming into the appropriately named Last Chance aid station (mile 43), we were warned about the high heat in the canyons ahead, especially Deadwood Canyon. "It's 110 down there...be ready," a volunteer said. Was I scared? A little, yeah. Over the years, I've read a lot of stories about depleted, emotionally and physically broken runners ending their races at Devil's Thumb (mile 47), which is atop Deadwood Canyon on the other side of that inferno. So, leaving Last Chance, I made sure I had plenty of ice in my Buff and in my hat and lots of cold water to sip on (they have lots of ice at Western States!).

Karl Hoagland, publisher of UltraRunning Magazine, left Last Chance at the same time as I did, saying to me, "24 hours is going to be close." Karl had run this race many times, and I so I knew that from here on out every second counted. Game on!

The drop into Deadwood was incredibly steep. That famous scene from "Unbreakable," when Kilian Jornet rips past Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka going down into Deadwood, does the canyon's steepness no justice. It is an insanely steep drop, much of it covered with leaves. When the day comes that I return to Western States, I will be ready for the drop into Deadwood. Man, was it steep...and hot...and dusty.

Making my way down into the canyon, I ran conservatively (looking back on, too conservatively), trying to protect my quads and stay as cool as possible. But the heat was rising. I felt I would be OK. In the weeks prior to race day, I'd done a good bit of heat training in 180-190-degree saunas--textbook Western States training. At no time in the actual race did I feel overly "hot," except for a few really sunny spots that came and went with the tree cover. I felt OK. The heat training had me ready, or so I thought. Only later on did I learn that the heat was really a silent killer...........

When finally I got to the bottom of the canyon and crossed the American River by bridge, I saw two guys wading in the water. I remembered then what a race veteran had told me a few days prior. "When you get to the bottom of Deadwood," he implored, "get in the river. It will save your race," the reason being that the cold American River water will lower your core body temperature, which in turn will do your gut a big favor.

With my Buff still a bit icy, I kept moving, skipping the opportunity to cool off in the river. I felt fine! This would turn out to be the single biggest mistake I made--and it would cost me. Feeling physically okay, I started the viciously steep climb out of Deadwood Canyon and up to Devil's Thumb--a climb that nearly destroyed me. I have done some steep ones in my day--Jemez in 2011, the backside of Hope Pass at Leadville quite a few times (to put it mildly)--but that climb out of Deadwood was in a league of its own, and I think it was not because of the sheer vertical but because my body temp started to rise.

Coming into the Devil's Thumb aid station, I was sweating profusely. My shorts were soaked all the way through. I had never sweated so hard in my life! And my stomach was starting to go south, probably due to overheating. Damnit! I should have gotten in the river! But it was too late for that. Now in the Devil's Thumb tent, I sat down and immediately had a handful of volunteers attending to me like I was an Indy car driver in a pit stop (this is the Western States way).

At Devil's Thumb, it was easily over 100 degrees and yet there I sat, shaking like a leaf and wrapped in a thick blanket! I couldn't control myself. They handed me some soup and I spilled it everywhere because I shook so badly. Then came the vomiting after I had some broth. Concerned, they asked if I had crew on the course and I said I did...my wife and son, my mom and dad, and a few buddies, Mike and Kenny, who would be pacing me after Foresthill. Thinking about my wife and son, I started to choke up. I felt as if my race was crumbling.

After checking my vitals, the aid station crew felt I could continue but instructed me to avoid taking any salt capsules. They thought maybe I'd taken in too many S!Caps. I needed salt, they said, but not that much. I heeded their advice and left with lots of water and a handful of salty snacks (which they gave me) that I could barely get down.

Incredibly, I rallied just a bit after Devil's Thumb and started running, making my way down into El Dorado Canyon, which was again very hot but not quite as hot as Deadwood Canyon. There's an aid station at the bottom of El Dorado Canyon and I stopped at it briefly but could barely get any calories in me. So I started the long climb up to Michigan Bluff, which sits at mile 55. There, I would finally see my family.

The carnage going up to Michigan Bluff was pretty epic. I saw a number of runners in distress, and I felt like I was among them...depleted to the core. All I wanted was to lay down and take a nap--a clear indicator of heat exhaustion. One foot in front of the other...... Finally, coming into Michigan Bluff after what felt like a never-ending climb, I saw my wife and son. I teared up a bit and said to my wife, "I'm having a tough race." When I saw the aid station, I immediately went for the cot and laid down--a first for me. My stomach was in horrid shape and I need to close my eyes and push the "reset" button. So I laid down and asked the staff to let me nap for 10 minutes, which they did. My wife and son were allowed into the tent with me, while my parents looked on, concerned, from behind the barrier separating the runners from the spectators.

When I woke up 10 minutes later, my stomach turned south and once again I started vomiting. It was an ugly site. The Ginger Runner actually mentioned how horribly sick I was in his interview with Brian Morrison not long after Western States. I was so sick. It was at about this time that a friend of mine had gotten ATV'd into Michigan Bluff with kidney issues. His race was over. Was mine over, too? I didn't know.

Laying there in the cot, I didn't know what to do. I was sicker than hell and had 45 miles in front of me. Then, out of no where, I saw this huge man walk under the tent and look at me. "What's going on here?" he asked the medical team. It was Gordy Ainsleigh, who founded this crazy race 40+ years ago! Gordy, a chiropractor and true living legend, asked if he could work on me for a bit, to see if he could get my stomach in a better place (he had dropped from the race earlier in the day due to, I believe, IT band issues). I said yes. So he got to work, pressing on my gut and even doing adjustments to my neck. Meanwhile, my wife and son stood there, watching.

Gordy at work on yours truly at Michigan Bluff.
It looks like he's choking me with my Buff but I promise he's not!

After about 10 minutes, Gordy got me off the cot and walked me to the nearby food table. He told me I could--and would--finish this race, but admitted that 24 hours was probably now out of reach. I grabbed some salty snacks but he said to put them back down. Instead, he gave me some grapes and watermelon, saying I needed the sugar and water, not salty, fatty snacks. I thanked him. I even asked if he'd stand for a photo with my son, who had been wanting a picture with Gordy ever since seeing "Unbreakable." Gordy agreed, posing for a photo with my boy--a photo that I know my son will treasure one day.

As I left Michigan Bluff, I felt distress in my parents. I had spent easily a half-hour in the tent and had 45 miles in front of me. My dad, walking with me out of the crew zone, got choked up. He said to me, "Let's get this thing done, OK, son?" He was emotional. I was emotional. "I will, Dad," I replied. But I was more than emotional. I was in distress. Yet I knew I had experience to deal with tough races. I knew I had more than enough endurance to cover the distance. I had the requisite toughness. I knew deep down I could finish this race no matter what it threw at me.

The third canyon, the ominous-sounding Volcano Canyon, wasn't nearly as bad as the first two. No matter, it would take some time (I knew this) to come back from what Deadwood and El Dorado had done to me. And so my race in many respects hit rock bottom at Foresthill (mile 62), where I once again found myself down for the count with vomiting, chills and extraordinary fatigue.

But I got out of Foresthill, mostly because my wife ordered me out ("It's time to get going, Wyatt," she said firmly), and had a very solid stretch running down to the American River with my pal, Mike. That's a 16-mile "mostly downhill" stretch that I ran quite well on. Yet the damage had been done. From the river (mile 78) to the finish was something of a death march. Oh, I ran a good bit of it, but I was absolutely depleted, coming into Brown's Bar (mile 90) having battled hallucinations and insanely painful chafing. So I slept at Brown's Bar for 10 minutes, hoping some shut-eye would stop the hallucinations (which it did).

From there on, it was all about "staying the course," as I said repeatedly to myself and my crew.  "Stay the course.... Stay the course."

My Western States didn't go as planned. It was a long, long day in rugged country and on punishing trails--a day-plus that I'll never forget. The so-called "Western States Killing Machine" had done her best to grind me up into nothing, but I refused to give up. I just kept putting one foot  in front of the other until I crossed that finish line with my son.

And that is how I finished Western States--one step at a time. I grinded it out.

If your name got pulled from the hat last Saturday, I congratulate you. You have earned a spot into a race that will change your life. If you didn't get pulled, don't give up. If you stay patient and committed, your day will come--just as it came for me.

Crossing the American River, mile 78. See, I came back!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Too Much Whining on Facebook...So Deactivated

Over the weekend, I deactivated my Facebook account. It has been quite surprising how many people have contacted me about it over the past two days, asking "where" I am.

For me, Facebook has always been a "necessary evil." As I've lived in 9 states over my life (Colorado will be the last!), it's been a great way to stay in touch with folks I care about....fellow runners, friends, past co-workers and of course family. But, lately, it's just gotten to be too much. Something tells me I am not alone in taking "a break."

Simply put, I am tired of logging on and seeing post after post from people whining about the outcome of the presidential election. I am very anti-Trump and proudly voted for someone else. But, even for someone like me, who opposes Trump to the core, the whining has been too much. And the non-stop whining is what led to my decision to pull the plug...for now. I am tired of people posting diatribes from non-reputable news outlets and pretending that said content is reputable.

I say "for now" (in reference to deactivating) because I am leaving the door for coming back to Facebook open, but it is also possible I will not. It is simply too upsetting to me to see friends yelling at friends, family turning against family, relationships coming to an end...all because of an election. I have not engaged in this madness--I have only watched it in horror. It is too much for me.

Many years ago, I worked political campaigns. Here's what I learned: Elections are won and lost. Sometimes your candidate wins. Sometimes he or she loses. If you're on the losing end, usually it's for specific reasons. Don't whine about it. Instead, figure out what went wrong, have a plan for addressing those failures going forward, get better people and learn from the mistakes so you don't make them again. But, above all, don't whine.

As runners, we don't take too kindly to whining. In races, as in life, stuff goes South. When that happens, you dig deep, get a plan, and keep going. When it hurts, it's OK to whine once or twice (under your breath). Hell, you can even shed a tear now and then (I did at Western States, when my race went to hell in a handcart coming into Michigan Bluff--and yet I finished). But whining and a flood or tears aren't going to get you to the finish line. What will get you to the finish line is a plan and "an inexhaustible supply of grit, guts and determination" (to quote Leadville 100 founder Ken Chlouber). That last thing--grit, guts and determination--is in short supply these days. I truly believe endurance athletes are leaders to the core.

In closing, I am glad I'm off Facebook. I do not miss it (at all). There are other places I can get updates on running...such as Ultrarunning Magazine, iRunFar, blogs, etc. And if I want to reach out to a pal, I can call or text him.

A final note..... My 2017 schedule is still coming together but as of now here's what it's looking like:
  • Spring marathon TBD (Colfax?)
  • Leadville Marathon
  • Leadville 100
I would love to do a late spring 50-miler, such as Jemez, but it might be hard to pull that off with scheduling/family engagements.

Here's to a life without Facebook. We'll see how long I can hold out, but so far I'm liking it.

Friday, November 4, 2016

3,000-Pushup Challenge and Possible 2017 Schedule

Inspired by fellow ultrarunner Andy Wooten, who is also an Aspen-based life coach, I embarked in October on an interesting challenge that was very much out of my wheelhouse: to complete 3,000 pushups in a single month. Andy completed this challenge in September. Intrigued, I decided to give it a whirl in October.

Unfortunately, I didn't get started with the challenge until October 3, meaning I went into it with a two-day deficit to make up. No worries! I love a challenge. I was able to quickly make up for the lost days and, in the end, finished the month with 3,110 pushups. My best day was 170 and my worst day--because of a sore shoulder that required rest--was 25. The average day saw 110-120 pushups over 4-5 sets.

I definitely got stronger as the challenge progressed and I put on some muscle, which might explain the three extra pounds I gained in October. By the midway point of the challenge, I found myself able to bang out 30 or 35 pushups with no effort. Here's how it all unfolded:


For November, why stop the challenges? So I'm kicking around the idea of 1,000 pushups and 2,000 crunches and have already started. I figure a thousand pushups should maintain the strength I gained in October. As for the 2,000 crunches, well, it would be interesting to see what that brings. Then, in December, I may do 1,000 weighted air squats, 1,000 pushups and 1,000 crunches. Life is about variety!

***

I have begun to kick around what races I may do in 2017. Earlier in the fall, I went through this phase where I actually considered signing up for the Tahoe 200-miler. I also looked at the Bigfoot 200, which looks insanely hard with over 100,000 feet of elevation change. While I am quite certain that at some point I will lace 'em up for 200 miles (my maximum mileage in one clip is 131 miles--what's 69 more?), I don't think 2017 is the year to do that. But when that time comes, I am thinking Tahoe will be the ticket unless some other intriguing 200-miler surfaces.

Anyway, as far as 2017, I am entering the Western States lottery as I desperately want back into "the Big Dance." I absolutely know I can improve on my 2016 time by 3+ hours--starting with going into the race fresh and not cooked from overdoing it at a race three weeks prior. But with one ticket in the lottery (had to start over after my finish in 2016), I have a snowball's chance in hell of being selected. If by some miracle I am drawn, then the spring and summer would be built around Western States.

If I am not drawn in the WS lotto, then I will hope I'm drawn in the Leadville 100 lottery, which would mean that I'm committing to the 1,000-mile buckle. Which also means I'm committing to 500 more miles on that course....

That would mean 2017 might look something like:
  • Colfax Marathon in May or some other spring marathon 
  • Leadville Trail Marathon in June
  • Leadville 100-Mile in August
The summer of 2017 is looking fun!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll Denver 1/2 Marathon

On Sunday, I lined up for the Rock 'n' Roll Denver 1/2 Marathon. I can't explain why, but I was pretty keyed up going into this race. That's a nice way of saying I felt nervous. Although 2016 has been an epic year in that I finally got my chance at Western States and earned my fifth big buckle at Leadville, my results have left me quite dissatisfied. So on Sunday, I felt nervous because deep down I wanted a result I could be happy with but I worried this race would bring more disappointment.

I actually considered skipping Sunday's race but, after pacing my son in a 5K on Saturday (he finished in 28 minutes!), I felt inspired to line up and give it a go. As a reminder to dig deep and go hard, I found my old Cleveland Southeast Running Club singlet and wore it on Sunday. It's hard to explain, but when I put that thing on my mentality changes and I want to go hard. I wore that singlet in some exciting races in my mid-30s, including a few of my sub-3-hour marathons and a 3:46 50K. Here's a photo of me in it at the 2008 Columbus Marathon, where I eked out a 2:59 on a blown-up hamstring:



As far as how Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll race went, turns out it wasn't too bad of a day. I finished 70th overall out of 6,667 (top 1%, which I like!) with a time of 1:27:40. In my age division and gender, I ended up 7th out of 390 and 57th out of 2,552, respectively. Not bad.

It's up for debate as to whether or not the course was a bit long. Some results from Strava showed that the course was anywhere from 13.1-13.4 miles. My watch read 13.3 miles. Whatever the case, I ran hard! My splits from the day were:

5K: 20:27 (6:35 pace)
10K: 41:15 (6:39 pace)
10 mile: 1:06:38 (6:40 pace)
Overall: 1:27:40 (6:42 pace)

So, overall, pretty consistent. As I look at my result from Sunday, I am well-aware of the fact that I'm slowing down with age, though I also know that I wasn't really specifically trained for a fast 13.1 miles. My half-marathon PR is 1:22 but that was run at sea level. So I figure if Sunday's race were at sea level, the result might have been 1:25-1:26. Not a huge drop-off but I'm aging and that's OK because there's nothing I can do to stop it.

I really enjoyed going "fast" on Sunday. I have always loved the road and feel in my element when I'm pounding the pavement. Going fast on the road introduces a level of pain that's hard to achieve on the trail, unless it's up the backside of Hope Pass! By mile 10 on Sunday, I was fighting tooth and nail to maintain 6:35 pace and had to suck down a VFuel gel to hold it together. There is something about the anguish of holding pace in a road race that draws me in. In a race like a half-marathon or marathon, every second counts. I love that.

Rock 'n' Roll races are often the target of ridicule among "serious" runners. While some of the criticism may be warranted (especially criticism of the "sag wagon"), I really liked the energy of Sunday's race. There were runners of all abilities and a festive atmosphere from start to finish. The course was interesting, meandering through downtown Denver and through City Park and back downtown, well-marked and safe. The number of police officers securing intersections for safe passage by runners was impressive.

I have never been a huge believer in prediction calculators but I think Sunday's result indicates that I'm in about 3:03-3:04 shape for the marathon.

Monday, October 3, 2016

2017 Thoughts

Like a few other runners I know, I have yet to reach the place where my race plan for 2017 is crystal clear. And that's OK because we still have three months left in 2016 and I'm going to enjoy them!

I am still processing (and recovering from) my Western States/Leadville double summer and am now cramming for the Rock 'n' Roll Denver 1/2 Marathon in a few weeks. Obviously the endurance for a half-marathon is more than there. Right now, the emphasis is on building some speed so I can get it done in a decent time. Then it's ski season!

As with past years, as I look at the upcoming year, no one race has really jumped out and grabbed my attention. At this point, my thoughts are mostly focused on some specific goals I'm considering, including:
  • Running a Boston qualifier. Not sure I have another sub-3 marathon in me but I sure would love to give it a solid go in the spring. Although I have settled on no specific race, I am mindful of the fact that the Colfax Marathon is local and may be a good option.
  • Re-qualifying for Western States. After a 26-hour slog that left a bad taste in my mouth, I feel a desire to return to Squaw Valley Ski Resort in the next few years to break 24 hours. Not sure what Western States qualifier I may run in 2017 to stay in the lottery but it's a goal.
That's about it. I am also tossing around the idea of hiking the first 110 or so miles of the Colorado Trail over 3-4 days, likely in July. I love the idea of starting in Waterton Canyon and finishing at Copper Mountain Ski Resort and then over the next 3-5 years covering every inch of that epic trail. If I do the the Waterton to Copper Mountain stretch next July, I will want some company and, of course, I will need some very nice gear that doesn't weigh much at all.

I saw that the Leadville Race Series has released the date of the 2017 Leadville 100 run. I just can't seem to pull the trigger on committing to Leadville in 2017. Honestly, I think it's doubtful. I have five buckles and have decided that, if I line up for Leadville again, it'll be with the goal of getting that coveted 1,000-mile buckle. I'm just not ready to make that kind of commitment, so as of now Leadville in 2017 is fairly doubtful. That could change......

Looking back on my training for the Western States/Leadville double, I can definitely see where I fell short (what can I say? I am always analyzing). While pure running fitness/endurance and a positive attitude were there, what I really lacked was specific attention to big vertical. Simply put, I am putting in the miles but I need to spend more time on steep mountains going up and down. Hills aren't enough. We have a mountain not far from us (45 minutes)--Mount Morrison--that would have been perfect training for Western States as it's steep. When you have not done enough vertical in training, the vertical you encounter in a race will put a lot of stress on your body (and mind). That kind of stress can do a number on the stomach.

Looking back on Western States, I was so ill-prepared for those steep canyon descents and climbs in the middle portion of the race. The steepness of the descent into Deadwood Canyon was simply mind-blowing; it was almost like stepping off a cliff. The climb out of the canyon and into Devil's Thumb was no walk in the park, either. While I was in great shape to run 100 miles in the heat, I simply wasn't ready for that undulating course, and so it's no surprise that by Foresthill, where a puke fest ensued, the race had nearly broken me. I am amazed that I finished.

I'm not saying my stomach issues all go back to a lack of vertical in training; what I'm saying is that I feel I could improve my situation a bit if I did more steep vertical in training. It then becomes an issue of willingness.... Am I willing to devote the time to doing such vertical when I have other priorities in life?

During the Run Rabbit Run 100-miler a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a very notable elite ultrarunner who has also battled raceday stomach issues over the past few years. When I told him that my stomach seems to give out on me after 50 miles, he replied, "You know what the answer is, right? Don't race more than 50 miles." That's what he's taken to doing, but I'm just not quite there yet.

This is always the time of year when I love to hear what others are thinking about in upcoming year. So do please chime in with your possible plans!

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!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

And That's a Wrap on Western States Training

Well, just like that, the taper for the Western States 100-miler is here. May was a very strong month, and I was able to go into my 3-week taper with a huge (for me) 7-day stretch where I ran 102 miles and climbed and descended a combined 24,400 feet. May saw 370 miles (not including miscellaneous walking). Most importantly, I felt good through all the volume and still feel fresh and alive.

It all ended with Saturday's North Fork "50K." I quote "50K" because it's really a 32.5-mile race--and one of the best such races in Colorado with its friendly, down-home feel, great organization and tremendous post-race picnic food complete with tall cold ones. It seems the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, which was also on Saturday, is the "in" 50K for this time of year but I'll take North Fork any day of the week as it suits me better. It's a beautiful, fairly fast course, passing through some of the burn areas from the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire as you climb about 4,800 feet (which is a lot less than Golden Gate). Plus, it has some nice descents that are perfect for conditioning the quads.

Except for the fact that I saw a dead motorcyclist on US 285 going home, it was a great day at North Fork. I finished in 5 hours and 21 minutes, good for 8th overall out of 128 finishers. Going into North Fork, the strategy was to run it very conservatively (as in all-day pace) and essentially use the race as an aided long training run. I was able to hold to that strategy through about 21 miles, getting passed by quite a few runners, and then it fell by the wayside a bit when I "decided" to amp up the pace and see how many folks I could reel in.

As we entered one of the burn areas in the late morning, I had a nice view of several runners in front of me. It was at about that time that my iPod turned to Bob Seger's "Shakedown," a great tune from the eighties (I've always been a Seger fan). With the competitive juices flowing and the legs suddenly alive, I picked up the pace and by mile 23 was running sub-7s, absolutely hammering the downhills. I passed, by my count, every single runner that had overtaken me in the first 20 miles and was looking for more. And I was feeling good despite the heat starting to pick up. My legs, after feeling tired in the first 20 miles from a lot of running in the past few weeks, all of a sudden felt light and my turnover was solid. My quads were in great shape. It was time to run.

So in the last 10 miles, I was able to gain a lot of ground and even passed a runner about a 1/3 of the way from the finish line, crossing feeling quite fresh. Zero stomach problems. I continue to wonder at the effects of my sharp reduction in sugar, which I began earlier this year.

Today, all feels good--just some minor soreness in my hips and ankles but otherwise the ship is sturdy. I put in an easy 7-miler this morning, followed by weights and my fifth sauna session. I'm looking to put in 10-12 total sauna sessions. Not really interested in any bank robber suit runs, though I admire the commitment quite a bit. The taper plan is to cut mileage by about 35% each week going into Western States, with very little the week of the race as I super-hydrate.

I've been running ultras for 13 years and it's not every day that you can go into a race feeling solidly good about your training. I feel like this has been a hell of training cycle and so I can line up at Western States feeling confident that I can finish and ideally go sub-24 hours...or much better. My quads are there and the heat training is progressing.

The word that best describes this whole process--from start to race day--is simple: Gratitude. I am grateful for this opportunity.

Friday, June 3, 2016

He Ran One of the Fastest-Ever Times Across the USA: Interview with Jason Romero

Jason Romero overcame the challenge of legal blindness to run among the fastest-ever times across the USA. Starting in Santa Monica, Calif. on March 25, he covered 3,063 miles in a little over 59 days, completing his journey at New York City Hall on May 23 at 8:30pm. Averaging better than 50 miles per day, he bested his original goal by five days. The 46-year-old father of three from Colorado has an impressive running resume, completing some of the most challenging races on the planet, including the Badwater Ultramarathon and Leadville 100. Jason's run across America, dubbed Vision Run USA, supported the US Association of Blind Athletes. Jason, a lawyer by training, is now a motivational speaker and enjoys giving corporate keynote addresses. More information about Jason, including booking details, can be found at his personal website. Now sit back and enjoy the interview!


At the start. Credit: USABA

RM: Jason, first off, congratulations on an extraordinary feat. Averaging 50 miles a day while running across the country—over 3,000 miles in all—puts you in pretty select company. Several reading this interview can identify with the desire for such an epic trek but I want to ask the big question on everyone's minds. Why? What compelled you to take this on as a runner who is legally blind?

JR: I believe I was called to take on the challenge of running across America. It was a total act of obedience. One day, I was volunteering at a homeless shelter where I serve on the Board (Chirst’s Body Ministries) and I was overcome with a sense of knowing that I was going to run across America. I didn’t understand why at the time...and I’m not totally sure I currently understand why I was called. 

Before I was called, I had just stopped driving due to deteriorating eyesight. That had strained some important relationships and I had found myself in a funk. I found my way out of it by running and openly being “legally blind." In so doing, I met many people who had gone blind or were already blind. They inspired me. I saw firsthand that life is not over when you lose your sight; it is only different.

I also witnessed some large issues confronting this population, like a 70% unemployment rate, a 66% obesity rate, and 2 times the rate of depression versus the general population. I felt compelled to run across America as a blind man to demonstrate to all that we are capable of anything, despite perceived limitations.

Credit: Carly Gerhart

RM: Let’s talk about your vision for a moment. I want to get a sense of the challenges you may have faced on your cross-county trek. What might you struggle seeing that someone with “normal” vision would have no problem seeing? 

JR:  I have 100% clear “vision” – no problem there. My “eyesight,” however, is deteriorating. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is a degenerative eye condition. I was diagnosed at age 14 and told I would have no light perception by the time I was 30. When I was 14, my left eye was 20/200, my right eye was 20/70 and I had a full peripheral field of sight. At night, I had night blindness (I could see light, but not necessarily what the light illuminated). Fast forward to today: In my left eye, I see 20/400 and my right eye is 20/200-400 depending on how well-rested I am. I have lost my peripheral field (a symptom of RP), so I am able to see what is directly in front of me. I have tunnel-vision with a 15-degree field of sight – that’s like looking through 2 toilet paper cardboard inserts side-by-side. At night time, it has gotten darker and I see less. With RP, the retina slowly dies from the outside in; hence, the reason for shrinking tunnel vision.

Recovering between runs. Credit: Carly Gerhart.

RM: I can only imagine that, throughout your nearly 60-day run, it wasn't just your eyesight that was a challenge. You must have encountered a range of highs and lows. You told the Denver Post that on several occasions you wanted to quit but you didn’t. Tell me about those highs and lows and how you persevered through the tough times.

JR: As you can imagine, the run was a real physical challenge. But even more than that, it was a mental and emotional challenge. It’s hard to describe what happened because most people have never done anything for 60 days straight. I know I never had. I’ll give a couple of examples to try to sharpen the point. About 3 weeks into the run, a significant multi-year relationship melted down over a 3-day time period. This was a person I was very close to and all of the sudden it was gone. I was incapable of trying to mediate the situation, or work through to a solution. I was just trying to survive the act of getting up and limping for 3 hours before I could run every day. I had to put everything I had into just getting up and getting out there. There were 3 days where I was totally decimated, wiped out, and emotionally destroyed. I had to figure out a way to go on despite losing this relationship. It was very difficult. In a world where I did not have to run 50 miles a day, I would have been mopey and melancholy. But, put on top of that the fact that I’d already logged 750 miles, my body and mind were fatigued and I was in blazing desert. You just have to prioritize things and make a simple decision – am I going to quit (take the easy road) or am I going to continue and suffer (take the harder, and ultimately more satisfying road)? I never quit.

The other example of defining moments in this run came when cars either hit me, or attempted to hit me intentionally (drove directly at me while I was running in the break-down lane against traffic). When you are really confronted with your own mortality, you do a real gut-check. A crazy driver was completely out of the realm of things that I could control. I had to decide whether I was going to continue the run despite the real possibility of being hit and injured by a careless or intentionally mean driver. Ultimately, I decided this was a calling that I was doing and the only way I was quitting was if I was killed, or broke a bone that stopped me from being able to run. That is a really tough decision to make when you are a single father of 3 children. However, this run was not about me, it was for a higher purpose.

Credit: Carly Gerhart.

RM: I am sorry to hear about the relationship that ended. I can't imagine what those three days were like, knowing you had to deal with the loss but also run so many miles. With the run now "behind" you, how are feeling emotionally, spiritually and physically?

JR: Thanks for the empathy, Wyatt. As with all relationships, I hope time and perspective will help it evolve in a positive direction. Taking each category in turn, let's start with the easiest: how am I feeling physically. I'm about 10 days post-finish [as of June 2]. I have slight numbness in my feet that is improving every day. The swelling in my feet and plantar fasciitis flare-up have resolved. I have a little residual tightness in my left knee early in the morning; however, that one may be related to age as opposed to the run : ). Physically, I've recovered extremely well and I attribute that to all the preventative and reactive recovery work I did every night after each run. Basically, once I finished the daily run, I did recovery work for the next 2-3 hours before going to sleep, and I tried to get 7-8 hours of sleep so my body could heal itself. 

Regarding emotions, I'm kind of all over the place. I have an overwhelming sense of calm and satisfaction in having completed the run, and having exceeding the stretch goal I set. I am also feeling completely empty at times when I am not running all day long. After having transformed my existence into becoming a running machine, I think it is natural to have a "down spell" when you have to flip the switch back to being a person and attending to life as we know it.

Finally, spiritually, I am extremely fulfilled and content. God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. That was definitely the case with VISIONRUNUSA. I am a middle-aged, blind, skinny-legged guy with limited resources who went out and tackled a mind-bending pursuit. Even I have difficulty wrapping my head around it now that I am back. In my times of total loss and depletion, faith is where I turned. I prayed and asked for healing of my body, healing of my mind, protection and safe passage for me and my crew, protection of my children, for provision to cover about $20,000 in expenses associated with the run, and a strengthening of my faith. In New York City, the finish, a person asked me how I felt. I told her overwhelmed with emotion and crying, "I just hope I did everything that God asked of me." I am committed to serving the Lord for the remainder of my life. I sure hope He doesn't make me run across America again.

With his mother. Credit: Carly Gerhart.

RM: Circling back to the drivers who either hit or almost hit you.... I'm guessing they make up a small slice of the American pie, if you will. Did you ever encounter folks who tried to help? If so, what did they offer and what did it mean to you in the moment and now when you think back to it?

JR: The "knucklehead" drivers account for about 0.01% of the population. There were so many people who just wanted to help. I would have people drive up beside me and ask what I was doing. Once I told them, they would give me money, offer to drive and get me food, or just say they were going to pray for my safety. When I was stretching on the road, people would pull over and make sure I was OK. Many times they would offer to call an EMT for me  : )., We assured them that I was physically OK (maybe a psychologist could have helped me more). And, on one occasion, there was a big black truck that almost struck me. The driver turned around and pulled up beside me, and when the window rolled down a sweet spoken beautiful brunette woman apologized for about clipping me with the most wonderfully soothing accent. I should have taken the opportunity to tell her how grateful I was for her kind act of responsibility. I had many people spontaneously run with me. Sometimes they would see me on the road, have somebody drop them off and they would just do a few miles with me. It really meant the world to me that total strangers would give of their time to support the mission that I was on. Those conversations will forever be etched in my memory as meaningful moments in my life. 

At the end of the day, all we have is time. It really is our most valuable asset. How people choose to spend their time speaks volumes about who they are as a person. Are we consumed with chasing a dollar? I was at one point. Or, are we consumed with supporting others, helping them succeed, and caring for our own personal growth in the process? I sure hope that's where I am at and continue to stay.

At the finish at New York City Hall. Credit: Jason Romero.

RM: How did you "train" for this cross-country trek? Looking at your background, you've finished some stout races, like Badwater and Leadville. So clearly you had a deep base of mileage and experience. But how did you train for this run?

JR: I was a trail guy for my ultras. When I was called, all that changed. The year leading up to this race I ran all road ultras - PR150+ (183 miles in January), the Keys 100 (in May), Badwater (135 miles in July) and the Spartathlon (only made 100 miles in September). Those were four major races with big training blocks for each race, all in a single year. The intent was to learn to run and race on the road to understand what challenges were presented by this environment. I learned a lot! In October 2015, I started specific training for VISIONRUNUSA. That entailed learning to run every day without a break on asphalt and concrete. It involved increasing mileage to 100+ mile weeks consecutively without a break. At the end of each month, I would have a BIG WEEK. That would be a week of marathons, or a week of 50k's or a week of 50m/50k rotating for 7 days. Highest weekly mileage during training was 295 and my body was wrecked. I had muscle strains and tendonitis all over the place. I couldn't fathom doing 350 miles a week for 2 months. I was really scared going to the start in Santa Monica. I didn't know what was going to happen to my body when I put it to the stress test. There was a lot of pain and suffering, but in the end it was all worth it. Marshall Ulrich reminded me of that during my run, and he was 100% correct.

RM: You mentioned being a single dad to three kids. How did you family handle the run?

JR: My kids were extremely supportive. We prepared to be apart for a year and a half leading up to the run. When it finally came, we really weren't prepared to be separated; however, my kids supported what I was doing. We had some tough times along the way. Things happen in life where you need the support of your family. Sometimes a telephone call is just not the same as a hug or kiss. We all sucked it up, toughened up, and we made it through.  It was tough on all of us, but we are all together now.


Credit: Carly Gerhart.

RM: You got a lot of support on social media from legions of folks watching. Did you know about the response as the run was happening?

JR: Social media is what kept me going sometimes. I would get a chance to connect with people who I would have never known in my lifetime. Many times, they were the ones who inspired me to keep taking that next step, to not throw in the towel. That's the really neat thing about technology - it can enable you to share something that can have a positive effect on another person. I was very grateful for all the support I received and words of encouragement. I heard from people in Nigeria, Taiwan, China, Italy, the UK, Brazil, Columbia and some other places where I couldn't understand the languages. What a gift!

RM: What's next for you?

JR: My kids and I are going to Mexico for a vacation and sit on a beach. My next race will be to seek redemption and closure in Greece at Spartathlon.

At Twin Lakes during a 2010 training run for the Leadville 100.
L-R: Jason, Matt Curtis and the Running Man.

RM: Where can people learn more about you and the run?

JR:  My personal website for motivational speaking is www.relentlessromero.com.  The run's website is www.visionrunusa.com. We will be combining the information on both sites in the near term.

RM: Thank you for your time, Jason, and congratulations on a truly epic achievement!