Monday, July 26, 2010

Down the home stretch

Last week (7/19-7/25) shaped up into an excellent week of training for the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. I left behind the baggage of a poor showing at the July 18th Barr Trail Mountain Race and refocused on the big goal I've been after for four months--getting ready for Leadville.

It was a near-perfect week because it blended high mileage, quality and a key element of training many of us too often overlook--recovery. This was my third consecutive triple-digit week, with a nice 67-mile binge over a three-day period (Friday-Sunday). Here's how the week shook out:

Monday: Rest/recovery
Tuesday: 11 miles
Wednesday: 11 miles including some intervals at the Legend High School track--elevation 6,193 feet. I did 1x1600 at 5:46, 1x1200 at 4:24 and 1x800 at 2:57. Not bad for 6,193 feet. If I decide to go after a new marathon PR in Vegas on December 5, these times are going to have to improve!
Thursday: 11.1 miles
Friday: 21 miles in over 5 hours on a critical section of the Leadville 100 course--from Twin Lakes (9,200 feet) to Hope Pass (12,600 feet) and onto Winfield (10,200 feet) and back. This out-and-back brought 16,400 feet of climb and descent and involved a very enjoyable double-crossing of the Arkansas River. More on that later.
Saturday: 24 miles
Sunday: 22.5 miles
Total: 101 miles

Along with the miles, I'm continuing to focus on core strengthening and push-ups, since successful hundreds often come down to more than just your legs. Obviously, this was a very solid week--and it came at just the right time. Although my mileage wasn't that high (101), I spent a fair amount of time on my feet, especially during Friday's run in Leadville with my friend of literally 30 years, Matt, who is also running in the race.

I've run more miles and hours preparing for Leadville than for any other hundred I've done. That includes the 2007 Burning River 100 (6th place), the 2008 Mohican 100 (4th place), and the 2009 Mohican 100 (1st place), as well as the 2009 24-hour national championship in Cleveland (131 miles/9th place).

Unfortunately, it's really hard getting to the mountains as much as I'd like. With a toddler who keeps us quite busy (and happy!), Anne often working long hours (and every other Saturday morning), and a full-time job that keeps me occupied Monday-Friday from 8-5, I'm able to get to the mountains only about once and, at most, twice a week. On the other days I try to make the most of my surroundings. I go into the Parker hills and run on dirt and gravel roads at over 6,000 feet. I go to the track and pound out some intervals. I do what I can.

My goals for Leadville are as follows:

1) Finish--always the main goal in a 100-miler
2) Under 25 hours for the cherished belt buckle
3) Under 20 hours
4) Placement

In my mind, the course is more or less divided into three sections:

Miles 1-40--Start to Twin Lakes with the Sugarloaf Pass crossing and a few other nasty climbs and descents.
Miles 41-61--Hope Pass double crossing--more than half of the race's total elevation change occurs in these 21 miles.
Miles 62-100--Sugarloaf Pass crossing and more nasty climbs and descents.

I still have a few sections of the course to cover. Team CRUD is holding a night run on August 7 that I may attend if my ankle is doing well. It will take us from the Fish Hatchery to the finish, crossing Sugarloaf Pass. Many say this section is the crux of the Leadville 100.

Friday's run in Leadville with Matt was critically important because it allowed me to experience what will likely be the hardest section of the course. As previously noted, the 21-mile stretch from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back brings more than 16,000 feet of climb and descent--a little over half of the total elevation change in the entire race. From Twin Lakes, you cross the (incredibly cold) Arkansas River and then climb 3,400 feet to Hope Pass, traversing some pretty runnable trail. There will be a manned aid station near Hope Pass, but it won't provide crew access and there are no roads to it. In fact, I've heard the aid station supplies are brought in via llamas! The weather up on Hope can be very unpredictable. In the past, runners have encountered hail, rain and even snow. We're not in Ohio anymore!

After Hope Pass, you drop 2,600 feet, running on a fairly rocky, technical and sometimes very steep trail that intersects with an approximately 2.5-mile, uphill dirt road leading into Winfield, a ghost town. On race day, I think many runners (maybe myself included) will feel great discouragement descending the backside of Hope Pass as we'll be unable to escape the thought that we have to climb that damned mountain again after leaving the turnaround point! For many, Winfield will likely be a place of carnage. I'll be tired and my legs will likely be beaten, but I'll be so glad to see my pacer, Michele. She's a veteran Leadville 100 pacer and I'm glad that she's with me for the toughest part of this journey.

Through it all, I'll have an outstanding crew consisting of my mom, my brother Will, and Anne, who will be with Noah. Everytime I see Noah during a race I experience a lot of emotion. I'll need to harness that emotion in just the right way, so as to propel me. Almost every mile I've run over the past two years has been about Noah--setting a good example, putting your heart and soul into something meaningful, and showing him that it's good to tackle big goals. But there is no way any of this would be possible without the love and support of Anne. Preparing for a hundred-miler takes commitment and sacrifice not only from the runner, but also from his or her family.

Fortunately, I have enough experience with hundreds to know that you go through good and bad patches. The key is to stay hydrated and ahead of your caloric needs, and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can't get ahead of yourself--just stay focused on getting to the next aid station. This outlook, I think, will be particularly beneficial on that 21-mile stretch from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back.

Of course, after returning to Twin Lakes, you have Sugarloaf Pass and a series of other nasty climbs and descents to negotiate. But you can take comfort in knowing the vast majority of climbing is now behind you. The last forty miles will be a game of survival. You can't give up regardless of how badly your legs are begging you to surrender. Sugarloaf, Powerline and other challenges in the last 40 miles can be overcome!

This is the final big week of training, and then I enter a three-week taper. There are those who would scoff at a three-week taper, saying it's too long. I believe in the three-week taper for 100-milers. Three weeks out, I'll drop the mileage 15-20%. Two weeks out, the mileage plummets to about 55, and then the week of the race I do very little except walk, maybe go for a swim or two and generally focus on rest. My hope is that during the taper I can get the plantar fasciitis in my left heel cleared up and allow my right ankle, which I re-sprained on Friday going down Hope Pass, strong and healthy.

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