Monday, May 20, 2019

NORAD Trail Marathon; Back on Track?

Had a very solid race on Sunday at the NORAD Trail Marathon at Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs. Put on by Mad Moose Events, it's a figure-8 course with 4,000 feet of climbing that you run twice. Cheyenne Mountain is where NORAD is located--hence the race's name. So a pretty cool location.

I know the course quite well as I've run several races there over the years (including the Cheyenne Mountain 50K and the Xterra Trail Marathon), meaning going into Sunday I knew where to press it hard and where to take my foot off the gas pedal. Experience was on my side in spades. That said, I've kind of tired of the course over the years--there's just nothing on it that is new to me. But it is beautiful and on Sunday I really tried take it in.

My decision to enter the race was pretty last-minute...as in I registered at the table the morning of the event. I had checked with the race directors a few days earlier and they confirmed I could register on-site. That said, when my alarm went off at 4:30 on Sunday morning, I decided right then and there to bag the race and get some more sleep. It had been a busy week at work and I needed more rest. So I turned off my alarm and closed my eyes.

But then regret crept over me and I got out of bed and went through the motions of getting ready. I ate breakfast and had my coffee and then out the door I went, driving to Colorado Springs with very low expectations and, quite honestly, not a great attitude. The temperature on the drive down was in the high 30s. That's what I call "no excuse racing weather."

In truth, what was really holding me back was my flagging confidence as a runner. It has been a tough two years, and the last thing I wanted on Sunday morning was to drive down to Colorado Springs and endure a 26.2-mile death march where I hated every step because I can't race the way I used to race.

I am so glad to ran the race! Right out of the gate--trying to use my experience to my advantage--I opted to keep my effort at MAF and only allowed myself to exceed MAF if I was toward the top of a climb and knew I'd soon be on a descent. I was quite strong over the entire race, actually running the second loop stronger than the first. I lost no strength; in fact, I got stronger with the miles. I was especially strong on the descents and I was quite surprised by my climbing. My average heart rate for the entire race was 138. On a few climbs, I allowed by HR to get into the 150s but only near the top when I knew I was able to level off.

Running the whole thing at MAF was a good decision. Back in my 30s and early 40s, I had the fitness to go out hard and know I could hold it. I am still fit but not like I was in my 30s and early 40s. So it's better to go out conservatively, hold the effort at MAF and let the race come to you--which is what I did on Sunday. I passed several runners during the second loop.

I finished 6th overall out of only 38 starters, with a time of 4 hours and 20 minutes. Not bad for a course with 4,000 feet of climbing on rocky trails! I even got a 90% finish on Ultrasignup! Good to be back into the 90s!

Just like that, I'm feeling good about my fitness with the Burning River 100 now about two months away. I just put in my second consecutive week of 70+ miles. I just started Optygen and it seems to be kicking in. I am confident that, going into June, a couple of weeks of 80+ miles and at least one week at 90+ miles is all feasible. Hell, I might even be able to squeeze in a 100-mile week if I play my cards right (not counting on it).

That should set me up nicely for a Burning River 100 that I can run with confidence...and at MAF :-).

Friday, May 17, 2019

Aging

I am going to admit that I'm struggling with aging. I have friends who seem to be aging like a fine wine and yet here I am really struggling with it.

A few weeks ago, I ran a 19:07 5K--the first time in a LONG time I have not broken 19 minutes in a 5K. Admittedly, my 5K was run in Atlanta and it was super humid that day. Plus, the course had some rollers to it. But I always break 19 minutes and it wasn't that long ago that I was consistently breaking 18 minutes. Now here I am running 19 and change, barely able to hold sub sub-6-minute miles. It's hard to deal with...even though in that 5K a few weeks ago I was top Master's Runner and finished 3rd overall and walked away with a nice medal. Three or four years ago, it would have been an outright win as the winner, who was a teenager, ran mid-18 (which is slow for a 5K winner).

I definitely think I can break 19 again. I've restarted hill repeats and tempo runs--gotta use it or lose it as you age, as they say.

And then there is the Burning River 100 on July 27...... Ten years ago, I would have been thinking about winning or podiuming this race (I was always very ambitious and sometimes it paid off). In my head, I still feel like those are realistic--and yet in actuality they are not. Some guy who runs 100+ miles a week and is 28 year-old will win. I will be in the mid-pack. I am 45 and slowing down. In 2009, one of my closest friends, Tim Clement, won Burning River at age 47. I am not Tim. If I break 24 hours at Burning River this year, I will be thrilled.

My biggest regret in life is working too hard in a "real job" and being too responsible when I was in my 20s. Knowing what I know now, how I wish I'd gotten into ultrarunning when I was 24 or 25. When you are that young and training hard, it is amazing what the body will give you. Even at ages 35 or 36, my body gave me so much. It almost never failed me and it responded so well to the training load.

Jim Walmsley is on another planet as far as talent but, when I watch him run, I see the beauty of youth. Jim is 29 and he runs like a gazelle over distances of 50 or 100 miles. It is incredible to watch.

So I am struggling with aging. It's not easy. Oh, it has its benefits. I'm so much wiser than I was...more wise in life than on the run. When I see a "young person" making a mistake, I want to help them and usually I can if they are receptive to it. But I have not (yet) reached the point as a runner where I can use my wisdom and experience to compensate for my physical decline. Which is a nice way of saying I'm a bit of a head case at current.

I hope my ability to use my life experience in positive ways on the run comes. Right now, I'm in transition. Mentally, I still feel like a fast young buck. I need to accept what is happening and leverage my experience as a runner and recognize that experience has pluses to it just as fresh, young legs have pluses to them. I feel that experience can be leveraged to compensate for aging, to an extent, but I have yet to figure that out.

I am excited about Burning River and overall my training is going well. Come Memorial Day weekend, I'll have a little more time to train, giving me about 6 solid weeks to hit it hard and get ready.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Training Update / Inspiration from Yiannis Kouros

Training for the Burning River 100 (July 27) is going well so far. This week marked my third consecutive 60+ mile week and third consecutive Sunday with 20+ miles. Building the base....

Plus, I've dropped a few pounds, which is nice as over the winter I got up to about 173 pounds. As you age, the battle of the bulge is real! I think the pounds have come off for two reason: I'm running more, and I'm watching what I eat. Hummus is now a go-to staple. Back when I was running competitively, I ate a ton of hummus.

Also, I'm back to daily planks and I can tell they're working!

All in all, I'm feeling good.

I anticipate I'll be at 70 miles/week next month (May) and 80+ in June. I am hoping for at least one week of 100+ miles, which I feel I can do but it'll require some lunch-time runs at work and probably a day off (not easy with my schedule). I'm gradually introducing quality into the mix. All of this should be enough to have me ready for the big race on July 27.

I really believe that I can finish Burning River in under 20 hours...if my stomach holds together.

It's nice knowing I can train for Burning River off my doorstep! But I am getting the itch to hit the trails in a week or two. It's mud season in Colorado and we're still getting snow now and then, leaving the trails nasty. I'm not much for mud running so I imagine it'll be May before I'm hitting the trails with decent frequency. I'm envisioning some great runs in my favorite locations--Mount Falcon, Deer Creek Canyon, Roxborough State Park, Indian Creek loop and various sections of the Colorado Trail. But since my big 100 is flat and fast, no pressure to train in the mountains. Just go when I want/can.

It's not easy training for 100 when I have a full-time job, a family and ever-increasing responsibilities on the home front--I feel pulled in many directions every day. As children age, life becomes more complicated and problems more consequential. For the most part, it's easy when they're little. Not so easy when they become pre-teens about to enter middle school. It's because of all of that and more that I decided last summer that I can't run Leadville anymore--or at least for the next few years. It requires too much time away from home.

Last night, I watched "Forever Running," a super inspiring documentary about Yiannis Kouros. It has been a while since I'd watched it. Says Yiannis in the documentary: "The verb ‘endure’ is not a physical verb, it's a spiritual one. Endure means to withstand…you must be patient and then do solid training. Without patience, you will never conquer endurance."

So true...and so inspiring:

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Burning River 100, Here I Come

Yeah, I realize I fell off the wagon with my daily run updates. This happened for two reasons:

1) I have been really, really busy and posting daily updates just hasn't been a priority. Plus, I've been traveling a fair amount but am back home and, wow, does it feel good.
2) There were few clicks on my daily updates. No one, it seems, reads blogs much anymore, which is sad. That said, my Syncroblogger entry got tons of clicks.

So I signed up for the Burning River 100, which is July 27. Burning River was my first 100 in 2007. Except pacing some friends in latter years, including my old pal Tim Clement to his overall win in 2008, I have not raced an inch of that course since 2007. Due to some construction going on in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, some major changes are coming to the course this year--changes that are not ideal as the course temporarily goes to out and back versus point to point. Yeah, sucks. Then again, Burning River just "feels" right and I can't explain why. I'm sure it has to do with going back to where it all started for me and at the same time seeing old friends. I weighed it against Javelina and Tunnel Hill and Burning River just feels good and the timing is perfect.

To say my training since January has been inconsistent would be an understatement. I have gotten out and run every day but I've been "consistently inconsistent" in terms of how I feel on a day to day basis--a product of aging. So we'll see how my training for Burning River goes. I tend to start feeling consistently better once spring is upon us and the weather warms up. As of now, I am not prepared for Burning River. But, I have a very deep base and something to work with.

I have 3 months of solid training I need to get in! That is not much! But, as Burning River is a "flat and fast" 100 (with very little technical terrain compared to what we have here in Colorado), I feel like what I need to do with my training is attainable. No pressure to go to the mountains to run. No pressure to hit the hills. Yeah, I'll be doing all of the above but only for pleasure within my training--not because it's "required." To execute a solid day at Burning River, I will need two things:

1) Lots of endurance
2) Economy

Oh yeah, and enduring heat and humidity.

On a course as flat at Burning River, there is going to be a lot of running required. There will be some hills but not many--really just speed bumps compared to what we have in Colorado. This will be about who can run 100 miles. I have done that before but it requires a lot of conditioning--a lot! So, time gods on my side, I plan to get my volume up to over 90 miles per week on peak weeks. If the time gods really cooperate, it would be awesome to get in at least one 100-mile week.

Currently, the only race I have signed up for between now and Burning River is North Fork 50K on June 1. I may up it to 50 miles--we'll see. I may also add Cheyenne Mountain 50K in late April. Both of these races involve way more climbing than Burning River but finding flat ultras in Colorado isn't exactly easy. They will help condition me and I will make the best of them.

Although I have struggled mightily with the 100-mile distance in the past two years, I really believe I have a few more decent 100s in me. I just have to pick the right courses and do the work to be ready. Burning River feels right.

So it's on!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Today's Run - Sunday, 2/24

My folks are visiting and we wanted to go to church so I got up earlier than usual and busted out 12 miles in 99 minutes. A little sluggish and the long grind up Canterberry Parkway worked me over. The trails are all covered with snow so had to stay on the roads.

Then in the afternoon went to the gym with the wife and got in another 4.5 miles on the treadmill. Felt very fresh on the treadmill.

Ended the week with 60.1 miles. Another 60+ week. Would like to get a 70 or two in March.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Runs for 2/19-2/22 - Cold!

Overall, I have felt solid this week, even as it has been really cold.

Tuesday: 7 miles in 56 minutes on the dot on the treadmill. Was about 10 degrees and icy outside so opted for the 'mill. Last mile in 6:58--easy effort.

Wednesday: Once again opted for the treadmill as it was 6 degrees and icy outside. 6.7 miles in 56 minutes. Didn't feel as great as Tuesday but a solid workout.

Thursday: Decided to get outside and ran 6.7 miles in over 57 minutes. Holy crap--it was cold. That was the coldest 12 degrees I may have ever felt! Plus, the wind...… Just tried to stay upright and alive.

Friday: Oh, how the "warmer" 19 degrees felt so much better. 6.8 miles in just under 57 minutes. Felt good and fresh.

I also managed decent walks with the dog on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I am trying to get in more PM walks to de-stress from work, help the family dog see the world and burn some calories.

My big problem right now is that I'm getting out the door too late in the mornings. Between having to gear up for the cold and just not being into the cold and dark, my cheerfulness with heading out to get in at least 65 minutes per run just isn't there. This is about discipline.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Then and Now: What’s Changed in Ultrarunning in the 10 Years Since the First Synchroblog

I have been invited to participate in the latest "Synchroblog" project. How exciting!

What is the "Syncroblog" project? Craig Thornley, aka "Lord Balls" (who is also race director for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run), explains here on his "Conduct the Juices" blog. The topic for this latest Synchroblog installment is "Then and Now: What's Changed in Ultrarunning in the 10 Years Since the First Syncroblog?" and joining in this topic are Craig, Scott Dunlap, Andy Jones-Wilkins and Sean Meissner. As far as I can tell, the first Synchroblog published on January 15, 2009.

Those who have been in ultrarunning since 2009 know A LOT has changed in the last 10 years, starting with the emergence of social media--now a dominant force in society. I ran my first marathon in 2004 and my first ultra in 2005 and in those days social media didn't really exist. In 2009, a growing number of folks were starting blogs and joining Facebook.

Putting aside the many changes that have occurred in my own running life in the past 10 years--namely going from a 35-year-old runner consistently putting in 100-mile weeks, running sub-3-hour marathons, and competing for wins and podium finishes to a 45-year-old dude who, while still fairly strong (all things considered), is definitely slowing down--I am going to focus this entry on...the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run.


I am going to show--or at least try to show--that 2009 was a pivotal year for the Leadville 100--a year that changed the course of the race for at least the next decade. But it wasn't just the year that changed the trajectory of the race; it was also a specific history-changing day: May 5, 2009.

Further below, I am also going to list some proposed improvements that I hope the Leadville 100 organizers will consider to make the race even better in the next 10 years.

But first, let's go back in time, shall we?

What Happened on May 5, 2009?
In 2009, Leadville locals Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin co-owned and operated the Leadville Race Series. They founded the Leadville 100 run in 1983. As the "jewel" in the spectacular Leadville Race Series "crown," the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run in the 2000s annually drew about 450 starters--among them uber-competitive athletes. These were the days of Anton Krupicka's dominance. Anton's legend grew from his shirtless, seemingly effortless wins in Leadville. He reportedly slept in a public restroom the night before his 2006 win.

The course back then had some key differences, though fundamentally it remains the same. Back in those days, you ran through the Halfmoon Campground (about miles ~25 and 75) and up and back down the dusty Winfield Road (miles ~48-52). Plus, the Leadville National Fish Hatchery was an aid station at miles 23.5 and 76.5 (it has since been replaced with the Outward Bound station). Quick aside on the removal of the Halfmoon section: a fatal Blackhawk helicopter crash, only days before the 2009 race, forced this change. I have never understood why the course has never gone back to the Halfmoon section.

So what happened on May 5, 2009...a day that marked a new era for the Leadville 100--an era that some say has been good and others say has been bad? On May 5, 2009, a blockbuster book by journalist Christopher McDougall came out. Entitled Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, the book would go on to sell over 3 million copies.


I will spare you a detailed overview of BTR--because you have probably already read it--but among its many stories were tails of some truly legendary Leadville 100 races in the mid-1990s, when Ann Trason endured epic showdowns against huarache-wearing Tarahumara Indians for the win. Adding to the intrigue, the book also told the story of how and why the Leadville 100 was founded in 1983.

Born to Run not only delivered Leadville to a mass audience; it also launched the relatively short-lived barefoot running boom. Anyone who ran the Leadville 100 from 2010 to about 2014 can recount many runners on the course wearing either Vibram FiveFingers or huaraches...or perhaps nothing on their feet.

The fame and intrigue that Born to Run brought to not only the Leadville 100 but also the town of Leadville could not possibly be overstated. A phenomenon, McDougall's book captured lightening in the "Leadville bottle." And this is reflected in the race registration numbers. In the 2009 race, with BTR only out 3 months, the Leadville 100 drew 498 starters--not far off from average but still the highest number in its history up to that point. Here's what happened in the next 9 years:
  • 2009: 498 starters
  • 2010: 647 starters (I registered in May)
  • 2011: 625 starters (closed out in January)
  • 2012: 795 starters (closed out in January)
  • 2013: 943 starters (closed out in January)
  • 2014: 672 starters (lottery instated))
  • 2015: 637 starters (lottery)
  • 2016: 650 starters (lottery)
  • 2017: 606 starters (lottery)
  • 2018: 712 starters (lottery)
As you can see, the Leadville 100 experienced a huge surge in registrations starting in 2010--as well as in web interest. From 2009 to 2010, it saw a 30% increase in its starting field. The 2013 race saw nearly double the number of starters as compared to 2009. If you're wondering why the precipitous drop-off in numbers after '13, we'll get to that shortly..... But the surge in interest was so steep that in 2014 the race instituted a lottery, now drawing thousands annually.

New Ownership
The surge in registrations for and interest in the Leadville 100 was only part of Born to Run's impact. The book almost overnight increased the "value" of the Leadville 100 and larger race series to the extent that suitors stepped forward with interest in buying the budding enterprise owned and operated by locals Chlouber and Maupin since 1983. Among those suitors was Life Time Fitness, a publicly-traded fitness club company.

In 2010--my first Leadville 100--Life Time purchased the race series from Chlouber and Maupin for an amount I have never been able to confirm. I ran in the last Maupin/Chlouber-owned Leadville 100 run on August 21, 2010. Quick note: Also in that race was the CEO of Life Time, who came up short in finishing the 100 in under 30 hours to score Leadman distinction.

Overall, Life Time did a solid job with the 2011 and 2012 races, though in 2012 it made a significant last-second course change, subbing in a new trail section between the near-bottom of Hope Pass and the Winfield aid station (where you turn around). While this change enhanced runner safety, the organizers announced it only a few days before the race, angering many runners who felt blindsided.

2013 Race
The 2013 race, which ended up being one of my best Leadville 100s, brought disaster to the "brand." Probably eager to cash in on the race's 30th anniversary and ongoing interest from BTR, Life Time let in many more runners than in previous years--a rumored 1,200 registered, with 943 at the starting line the morning of the race. Not only was the out-and-back course super crowded but many aid stations ran out of water and other key provisions. Plus, with many newbies on a course that is not appropriate for inexperienced ultrarunners, littering proved a problem. The 2013 race was a disaster.

In the aftermath of the 2013 race, the Hardrock Hundred dropped Leadville as a qualifier, accusing Life Time of failing to adhere to good practices related to "environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport."

Understand that, going into 2013, there were rumors of Life Time marketing the Leadville 100 in its clubs nationwide. It also had instituted some really questionable promotional programs, such as a "CEO Challenge." Life Time had made the huge mistake of trying to further democratize a high-altitude, mountainous race that was/is really more appropriate for experienced runners, not your garden-variety gym rats. I am not saying that to be condescending. I am merely being straight-up that there is hard and even really hard...and then the Leadville 100. 

Transparency
In the wake of the 2013 running, Life Time instituted a lottery and began "capping" the field but few still know what the cap really is. Whereas with races like Western States and Hardrock, you know the caps, with Leadville you do not. My guess is around 775 to 800 starters, understanding that 10%-20% will no-show.

Additionally, with the lottery, which began with the 2014 race, Life Time never really explained its criteria, as compared to Western States, which is very transparent with its lottery. The Leadville lottery has never taken place in public. It is a process that, in my opinion, is in need of more transparency.

Life Time Bought
In early 2015, private equity firms TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners purchased Life Time Fitness. With this purchase, Life Time became a private company.

Today, the race series is still owned by Life Time but rumors of its sale abound. Meanwhile, strange and seemingly off-brand sponsors have come on board, like Century Link, making some of us wonder if Life Time's investment in the race series has been cut, or maybe its interest has waned, forcing the series to seek sponsors to keep it afloat. I guess only insiders know the low-down.

A few years ago, the race also institute group registration for the lottery, angering traditionalists who decried such moves as akin to the Rock 'n' Roll marathon series.

Despite question marks about its ownership, the Leadville Race Series is still uber-popular, with many being denied entry via the ever-crowded lotteries for both the 100-mile run and bike ride, but some would say it's lost a bit of its mystique. I definitely believe its removal as a Hardrock qualifier cost the Leadville 100 some major prestige points.

The race still attracts quality runners, but is far below Western States, Hardrock and UTMB in terms of competitive fields.

The Next 10 Years!
Although it could be plausibly said by the purists that the essence of the Leadville 100 has deteriorated since Life Time purchased the series, it is still a great race that I love. It offers an incredible weekend in the mountains--an experience pushing you to the edge of your limits. While there are some concerning things going on with the race series, overall the Leadville 100's brand remains in tact...and I think that's largely because of the town, Ken and Merilee's ongoing involvement (thank God for that), and, of course, those mountains.

The race is still coasting a bit on Born to Run fumes. Rumors of a BTR movie have been circulating for some time, and quite honestly I hope it's never made. These days, you hardly see barefoot or huarache-wearing runners in the Leadville 100. It is now the age of Hoka.

Some really positive changes have happened, too, such as the new "surprise" aid station toward the top of the Power Line climb. The Mount Elbert water station, added in I believe 2011, was also a very positive change. Plus, the volunteers at the aid stations continue to be exceptional. Another thing that hasn't change is just how hard the race is! Plus, the town...it's awesome!

Summing up much of the above, opportunities for improvement in the next 10 years, in my opinion, include:
  • Create more transparency with the lottery, including a public name-drawing event similar to what the Western States Endurance Run has at Placer High School every December. It's a great way to build community and instill trust in the process.
  • Lock in the course and minimize changes. The section between the bottom of Hope Pass and Winfield has changed too much in the last 6 years. There needs to be more stability with this particularly critical section.
  • Create a board. I have been beating this drum for years but I really believe the Leadville 100 run needs a board of directors with some power--likely not going to happen so long as Life Time owns the series. If such a board exists, I know nothing of it. Look no further than Western States as a prime example of the importance a board can and should play in protecting the integrity of a historic race. If you're getting tired of me pointing back to Western States as the gold standard, sorry but it is the gold standard.
  • Institute a qualifier requirement. Leadville is a tough, tough race and one should be required to have completed at least a 50-miler--preferably a 100-miler--in the last year to enter the lottery. That alone would narrow the field of entrants.
  • Remove the CEO/Executive Challenge. It's ridiculous.
  • Remove the group registration feature. It's ridiculous. This is Leadville, not a Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.
  • Move registration to Ultrasignup or another platform that is part of the ultra community.
  • If possible, return ownership of the race to the community. This is a race that locals should own. At the very least, it should be owned by Coloradans.
  • Stop with the random stupid things, such as denying Jim Walmsley a spot in the 2019 starting field because he didn't get in through the lottery. Save a few spots for invitations for the best.
  • Add an aid station at Tabor Boat Ramp inbound (mile 93). As hardcore as I tend to like things, I think an aid station at Tabor, which is about halfway between Mayqueen inbound and the finish, will enhance runner safety.
  • Create a prize purse. Unless I am mistaken, Leadville has the freedom to throw down a prize purse for the top finishers. Why not do it?
What changes have you seen in ultrarunning in the last 10 years? Comment to share, please.

Check out what my fellow Synchrobloggers have to say about what's changed in ultra in the last 10 years!