Monday, July 23, 2012

The Final Four Weeks before Leadville

At right about this time in the training process--four weeks before the big event--I'm usually reminded of how tough it is to train for a 100-mile race, especially the Leadville Trail 100. I love running, but at this stage it can often become a mentally and physically exhausting grind that can reduce you to the walking dead.

July has been a very busy month at work. We also just recently got a puppy. Amid of all of this, I've kept banging out the miles every day, including long tempo runs twice a week. Despite the busy month, things have been different than in previous years (at least so far). I have great strength in my legs. Yesterday I went a little over 25 miles up section one of the Colorado Trail, climbing over 3,000 feet. My long tempo runs have been super solid. I'm getting in very high-quality 90-plus-mile weeks, versus daily junk miles like what so many runners log (and don't get better from). I've been very vigilant about taking daily doses of Hammer Recoverite and also taking Udo's Oil and my green protein shakes.

No doubt about it: The long tempo runs I incorporated a few weeks ago seem to be paying off both physically and mentally. My leg strength has improved dramatically and I seem to move more efficiently. My mental toughness and focus have sharpened. When you run hard for 10+ miles, you have to be focused, especially in the final few miles. Basically, I feel like the tempo runs are getting me in good shape. Case in point: a few Sundays ago I went for a 2.5-hour run at Deer Creek Canyon. I ran 16 miles, climbed 3,000 feet, didn't walk a step and took in zero calories (just water). And when I got done, I felt fresh as a daisy.

I'm also working on upper body conditioning. I use dumbells and am doing push-ups and all kinds of core work. In 100s, the upper body and core play a big role. After a mountain race, I'm usually sore through my back and abs and sometimes in my arms. It's important for me to have well-conditioned arms since I may be carrying a water bottle for long periods of time.

I've also come to really focus on key workouts. Last week included three key works. The first was a 10-mile tempo run on Wednesday. Check. The second was an 8-mile tempo run on Friday. Check. The third was that that 25-mile trail run on Sunday, which came on the heels of a 19-mile Saturday. Check (and check). Today I'm recovering to allow my body to strengthen from the long run (very critical), and then on Tuesday I start a 7-day cycle that will take me right into a three-week taper. On Saturday I'm planning a 15-mile tempo run.

The cycle will end with a Hope Pass double-crossing run on July 30. I'd like to do the run in 5 hours--easier said than done. The double-crossing involves 21 grueling miles, a high point of 12,600 feet, and 12,000 feet of total elevation change.

One area of my training that might be lacking is high-altitude climbing. But lately I've been strong on the climbs I've done, which makes me think the tempo runs are giving me extra strength. As far as altitude, I'll be spending six of the next 25 night at above 9,000 feet. That includes a few nights in Leadville right before the race, when it really counts. Also, hey, it doesn't hurt that we live at 6,200 feet.

I do think most people who train for Leadville focus way too much on climbing and not enough on just running and quality workouts. They obsess over Hope Pass (and Powerline) and then make those sections the focus on their training, rather than bearing in mind that Leadville is a runner's race with just one fairly hardcore mountain section that most people hike. With that said, why over-focus on climbing? I mean, this isn't Hardrock.

All that said, I'm one of a thousand people signed up for Leadville. Of that, about 900 will show up. And of the 900, about 450 will finish. And of the 450 finishers, maybe 150 will go sub-25 hours. So basically 1 in 6 runners will be in pretty good shape and ready to rock 'n roll from start to finish. Like me, those 150 will have trained hard for months, making sacrifices in the process. I'm no one special; I'll be out there putting it on the line like most everyone else. Only about 10 runners out there will be true contenders, and maybe a handful, like this guy, that guy, maybe the great one himself, and a few others, will be in play for the win. I'm definitely not among that special class (far from it, as I don't have the time or talent), but I will surely be giving it my all, running my own race and showing patience in those first 50 miles. Because if you're not patient at Leadville, the chickens will come home to roost on Powerline and certainly around Mayqueen inbound.

Yeah, if this is your first Leadville, do yourself a favor and be patient. Almost anyone can run 50 miles fast. Not everyone can turn around and do it again, especially at 10,000+ feet and especially when you have to go back over Hope Pass again and do that grueling return trip that will surely make you puke (and crash and burn?). The good news is that if you are patient, Leadville is runnable--you just have to let it come to you....

Monday, July 9, 2012

Leadville 100 Training Update

My training for the Leadville Trail 100 is going well. Between work, family and getting in the miles, I haven't had much time to keep my blog as updated as I'd like.

My 4:40/21st-place finish out of 509 finishers at the Leadville Trail Marathon on June 30, while not quite as fast as I'd have liked, was nonetheless solid. I wasn't 100% going into the race and definitely wasn't 100% a few days later when I battled a low-grade stomach bug/throw-up virus. The Leadville Trail Marathon is a hardcore trail race and not for the faint of heart. It will destroy you if you're not ready mentally and physically. I'm tough enough to have gotten through it in a compromised state.

With the Leadville 100 now a little over five weeks away, I'm trying to take pressure off of myself, focus on what I need to do, and enjoy the journey. I'm not thinking about a specific time or place; I'm just trying to train well on a daily basis. I see that as focusing on the journey, not the destination, and it's honestly the best way to approach a big race.

I've come to realize that I can still get in big training blocks, but because I'm now 39 I have to follow up those big blocks with some recovery, even if it's just a day or two of going easy. I can't do big week after big week after big week anymore. I need to build in some rest.

Over the next three and a half weeks my training will revolve around weekly long tempo runs (goal is an 18-mile tempo run in late July) and really long trail runs. I've been doing weekly tempo runs, but they've been in the range of 6-8 miles. Longer tempo runs will take my strength to the next level. I'll run my long tempo runs on Saturdays and then the next day put in long trail runs at easy pace and at elevation. Should be fun (and very hard). Mondays will have to be serious rest days!

I'm not going to schedule any more races between now and the Leadville 100. I feel like the two 50Ks, marathon and "short"-distance mountain race I've already done, along with my training and my planned Hope Pass double-crossing on July 30, are/will be enough. I thought seriously about running in the Leadville Silver Rush 50-mile this weekend, but I think 50 miles at this stage in the game is too much. Unlike trail marathons and 50Ks, you can't run 50 miles without incurring some damage to the legs that requires more than a few days of recovery. Right now I need to be training, not recovering (or tapering).

The annual Leadville night run is Saturday, August 4, which is exactly two weeks before the race. I'm not 100% sure I'll be there, especially if I'm tired from all the training. My taper is scheduled to begin on July 31, the day after my Hope Pass run. I think that, especially at elevation, recovery is hard to come by, so you have to really dedicate some time to it or else you're going to show up at the starting line with fried legs (and a fried mind). Running ~23 miles at 10,000+ feet two weeks out might be a bit much. I could potentially do a shorter variation.

In addition to the Leadville 100, I've been thinking a lot about the Phoenix Marathon in January as an opportunity to finally go after a new marathon PR (around 2:50). After taking September pretty much completely off from serious running, my training for Phoenix will start in earnest on October 1 and involve three months of marathon-specific training. I'm excited about it. I just hope I stay injury-free this year. Since 2006, I've averaged one injury a year, and they seem to be getting more and more serious, though nothing has ever come close to the plantar fasciitis I battled in 2010-2011.

Good luck to all the Silver Rush, Badwater Ultramarathon and Hardrock 100 folks out there!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Looking for Leadville 100 Pacer

I'm in need of a pacer at the Leadville 100 on Aug. 18. My goal is sub-20 hours. Last year I finished in 22:35 due to some issues late in the race, and the year before snagged my first El Plato Grande buckle, a coveted prize in this sport. I have a cabin in town where my crew and I will be staying (and where you are welcome to stay after we finish). If you are interested in being a part of a legendary ultramarathon, as featured in Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, and if you are inclined to spend a day in one of the most beautiful areas in the entire country, please e-mail me and we'll discuss details.

Update: I now have a pacer for miles 70-100. If you are interested in pacing me for miles 50-70 (that includes Hope Pass), please let me know.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Leadville Trail Marathon Race Report

First of all, how lucky am I to live in such a beautiful place? Sometimes I can't believe I'm so lucky to live within a two-hour drive of the high-altitude racing capital of the world (Leadville, of course)!

I finished with a 4:40 and 21st overall, out of 509 finishers, at yesterday's Leadville Trail Marathon. 6,000+ feet of vertical gain, all between 10,200-13,185 feet. From the start, my legs weren't feeling it. Despite a slight taper going into the race, my legs felt tired and sluggish. But because this is Leadville, where you have to dig deep when things get tough, I decided to battle through the leg fatigue and get 'er done. I left myself no choice.

The start of the 2012 Leadville Trail Marathon. Photo by the Leadville Race Series.
What I didn't see coming were some stomach issues mid-way through the race. Again, I dug deep and got 'er done.

My best guess is that I wasn't yet over the virus/bug I dealt with for the better part of the week (this virus has now affected others in the Hornsby house). The bug involved not only GI issues, but also reduced appetite. I just didn't want to eat all week--not a good thing going into a big race. Basically, I felt like crap all week.

Leadville Marathon course profile.

Remarkably, I ran pretty much the same time as last year (4:40 in 2012, 4:39 in 2011). I got to the top of 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass in 2:23 (2:24 last year), having fought hard on the long and rocky climb. When I started the climb, I was running about 14th. The pass was littered with half-marathoners (they take a short-cut to the hardest section of the course). I passed, I'd say, well over 100 half-marathoners, many of whom were in death-march mode, and one marathoner. The fast-walking in my training is paying off, because I was strong on the Mosquito Pass climb despite the tricky footing.

Finally, at the top of Mosquito, I took a Hammer Gel (I fueled with Hammer Gels and water for the entire race), downed some fluids and got going! When I started the tough, rocky descent, I was in 13th place, but still not feeling 100%. I just didn't know what I'd have in the tank for the return trip, but I tried not to fixate on what lay ahead.

I hit a low point between miles 18-22, a mentally difficult stretch that involves a bunch of gentle climbs at about 12,000 feet of elevation. Basically, my legs were shot and my stomach was complaining. I'm in pretty good shape, so I figured my problems were more about the virus I'd battled and not about conditioning. A few runners passed me while I shuffled about, trying to regroup and stay positive despite the fact that I'd run out of water (which meant I couldn't take any gels for the time being) and was starting to feel dehydrated. I'm sure the altitude didn't do me any favors, either, in my compromised state.

On the rocky, ~2,000-foot descent into town (which, of course, you have to climb on the outbound), I started to feel slightly better after rehydrating and taking a Hammer Gel, though my legs were still uncooperative. I descended with confidence and felt more and more positive as I knew the finish was getting closer. Finally, on the road into town I starting moving well, running at about 7:15 pace (again, this is at 10,200 feet) with the finish line in sight.

About 200 feet before the finish, a runner came out of nowhere and passed me. I wasn't about to allow that to happen, so I hit the jets and blew past him into the finish line, beating him by one second. I felt like Mark Cavendish, the famous cycling sprinter who has the ability to accelerate like a jet into the finish line. Lots of people complimented me on my strong final kick, which made me feel good. I may not be a beast in the mountains, but I still have good closing speed and will fight to the death if someone's trying to chase me down late in a race. Here's a photo sequence of how it happened:

He's surging past me! All photos in this sequence by Rob Timko.

I'm about to hit the jets. The finish line is less than 100 feet away!

A la Mark Cavendish, I overtake my challenger.
And I break the tape!

After the race I hung out at the finish for over an hour, enjoying the good company of friends like Matt C., Lucho (who finish second overall and is going to shatter the Leadman record), Rob T., Jeremy B., Leila D., Jason R., and others. I didn't get a chance to see Scott W., who had a strong result. Had I known Tim Deboom, the two-time Ironman Kona champion who finished third with a 4:02, or Susan Williams, who medaled in the Olympic triathlon in 2004 and finished with a 4:57, were there on Saturday, I'd surely have introduced myself.

I felt horrendous and just drank as much as I could. A few hours later, in Georgetown on the way home, I had a Subway flatbread sandwich and it actually tasted good despite the fact that I hate fast food.

All in all, I'm pleased with my result. I'm confident that, had I been 100%, I would have run at least 5 minutes and maybe 10 minutes faster. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I think this race is the hardest marathon in the U.S. It beats the hell out of you from start to finish, and the technical descents (and climbs) only add to the challenge. It is very hard to get decent footing on Mosquito Pass and on the climb out of and back into town. All that said, it's incredible how much the Leadville Trail Marathon has changed over the past three years. It now has the look and feel of a big-time mountain event (but could definitely use some improvement in the way of finish-line food).

I have five more weeks of training before starting my Leadville 100 taper. I have some key runs on my schedule, including a Hope Pass double crossing on July 30 and a Fish Hatchery-to-finish night run on August 4. In late July I'm also spending three nights in Keystone for business--good altitude exposure. It's hard to believe, but the big race is right around the corner!