Friday, November 27, 2015

Uncertainty and a Rant About Selfie Sticks

With the racing season over (except for maybe a yet-to-be-determined 5K in December), my attention has turned to next year's schedule. At this point, all I know is that in 2016 I want to run a Boston Marathon qualifier in a spring road marathon and yet again finish a 100-miler, preferably Western States and/or Leadville. There are a couple of scenarios that I'm turning around in my head:

Very Awesome (Dream Scenario)
Under this scenario, my ~14% chance of being drawn in the Western States Endurance Run (I have four tickets in the hopper) has come through and I'm one lucky bastard. That would mean:

Colorado or Colfax Marathon - May
Mount Evans Ascent - June
Western States 100 - June
Leadville 100 - August

So, the big thing out of that schedule is a Western States/Leadville double, which I swore I'd never do but, damnit, if I get into States I just don't think I could skip another year of Leadville. The name of the game in the eight weeks between Western States and Leadville would be recovery, limited maintenance running, and acclimatization. Eight weeks comes out to 56 days--that should be plenty of recovery time. Also in the mix under this scenario: the Mount Evans Ascent, which--for a road guy like me--is an absolutely awesome high-altitude race.

Somewhat Awesome But Has Already Been Done
Colorado or Colfax Marathon - May
Leadville Trail Marathon - June
TBD 50K - July
Leadville 100 - August

Next Saturday, when the Western States lottery drawing takes place, I'll have answers. But I'm also mindful of the fact that Leadville, too, has a lottery. So, nothing is a given. If I strike out on both, well, maybe I'll go back to Bighorn and get revenge. That race is on the revenge list and one of these days I will return for redemption. But I very much am hoping for at least Leadville. I desperately want to return and get my fifth sub-25 buckle after taking 2015 off. I learned in 2015 that Leadville is just what I do--it's a race I love and it's a race that is close to my heart in every way.

With Javelina now in the rearview mirror, I continue to reflect on that entire experience. The narcissistic absurdity of "runners" carrying/using selfie sticks and talking and texting while running (meanwhile, my iPhone was 3 miles away in my parked car), it was simply an amazing race. I am satisfied with my result, though I know I could shave off at least one hour by doing a few things differently (such as not puking in the heat of the day). I am very confident I'll return to Javelina one day--it's too awesome of an experience to be one and done. My reflection has brought me to two concrete conclusions that I think will benefit me in future 100-milers:

1) My training for 100s has to center around aerobic development (basically MAF), with limited quality sprinkled in--namely weekly hill repeats and some tempo running. When it comes to training for 100s, there are many ways to get it done and we're all an experiment of one. For me, it's a game of being aerobically fit and putting in volume. Period. I was very aerobically fit at Javelina and it's because of the way I trained--I stayed in zones two and three most of the time and that's what I need to be fit for 100s. For marathon training, it's a whole different game--lots of quality.

2) Upper body and lower-body weight training is critical. I can't say enough about how critical weight training is at least for me. The payoff is huge. I am stronger. My pace gets faster because I'm more efficient. I seem to recover faster. Weight training helps everything click the way it should. If you're 40 or older and not weight training, you should consider starting because you're likely losing muscle to Father Time. The many frustrations with my performance that I've had in recent years probably stemmed from muscle loss due to aging. I'm now reversing that process and I can feel the difference. Another benefit of weight training for guys: It promotes testosterone production (no explanation needed).

Bonus insight: For me, the key to nutrition in 100s is that everything has to revolve around taking in lots of water and using ice to keep myself cool. If I take in some soda or sports drink, or even some potatoes, I have to wash it down with water. Water seems to go a long way in keeping my stomach problems at bay. Then there's ice: It's the single best way for me to stay cool.

Just to quickly circle back to selfie sticks in ultras (and really selfie sticks in general): If they're here to stay in ultras, well, I won't be sticking around long. I hear they have 200-mile races now. Maybe in those, the selfie stick/hashtag people will be kept far away. I am hoping that at Leadville in 2016 there will be no selfie stick-carrying "runners" who hashtag to death their every narcissistic social media update as they make their way along the 100-mile course. Here's the deal: Ultrarunning and selfie sticks don't mix. I would also say ultras and hashtags don't mix but I know some really good runners who use them on Facebook (I try not to let it get to me, though I do admit to using hashtags on Twitter but that's purely a work-related account).

Bottom line: Selfie sticks should be banned at all ultras (I'm pretty sure they're banned at most road races). They are a danger to runners because they create a distraction. Beyond that, they are just annoying, narcissistic and absurd.

Grumpy old bastard rant done.
So, with that, here's to the lottery gods showing some favor. But even if I don't get into Western States in 2016, that's OK. I'll keep qualifying and entering and then my lucky day will come.

Now, go run.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Reborn at the 2015 Javelina Jundred: My Race Report

Now in my twelfth year of running "long distances," I've read a lot of race reports. I've come to the place where I realize that brevity is king. So, without further delay, here are some thoughts about how things went down at the 2015 Javelina Jundred (100-mile run) in the Arizona desert. I don't want to do a blow-by-blow as that's boring. Instead, I just want to provide some highlights and keep it real. I'll try to be succinct but we'll see how it goes.

Pre-race photos with the guys. Left to right: Steve, AJ, me, Mike, Chuck and Jon. Photo by Heidi Mizones.

First off, I can't say enough about how well-organized and executed this race is. The Coury brothers have built an incredible event. It's a trail running festival with music, dancing, drunk emcees, crazy-good food, lots of alcohol, a huge tent city with a "Burning Man" look to it, and all the fixings you could ever want. From the pre-race communications to the race itself, it's a world-class experience as far as ultras go. The ice in the aid stations was plentiful and a God-send!

My only suggestion is that runners need to be reminded pre-race of the need to stay single-file on the trail. Late in the race, after it was dark, I was hit by approaching double-file runners (usally running as a group of friends) four times. It got old fast. I also found the amount of "running-while-texting/talking" on the course quite distressing. Really? If you need to talk to someone, get off the trail. Better yet, do what I did--leave your phone in the car.

I'm very satisfied with my result: 20 hours and 13 minutes, which was good for 24th place out of some 465 starters. My lap times were 2:27, 2:34, 3:04, 3:29, 3:26, 3:15, 1:58 (final "short lap). I rallied on the sixth and seventh laps (more on that below). I'm proud of the fact that I had no crew or pacers, though I did have plenty of friends on the course, such as AJ Wellman, Chuck Radford, Jon Ahern, Mike Mizones (who was crewed by his lovely wife, Heidi), Scott Schrader, Trevor Emory and others. In the absence of crew and pacer support, I "talked" to myself a lot. I reminded myself to take in salt, eat, drink, etc. And that was the perfect situation for me in this particular race. I'm now wondering if I need pacers at all in hundreds.

Another thing I want to note: I didn't turn on my iPod until mile 54 and I think that made a huge difference. The music really resonated with me in the last 48 miles because, by then, I really wanted to listen to some tunes. "Foreplay/Long Time" by Boston really got me fired up--I listened to that song probably 30 times.

I was gunning for a sub-20-hour result but it fell by the wayside when I found out that the course was actually closer to 102 miles. It didn't really matter much to me--that was two more miles of fun.

As far as shoes, I wore my newest pair of Hoka One One Cliftons (second generation) the whole way. The Clifton is the greatest shoe I've ever worn. I also wore Thorlo socks--the thick, heavily cushioned kind. Thorlo isn't "cool" among ultrarunners but I've been wearing them since day one. They work for me. I wore a North Face singlet and TNF shorts, my trusty CWX compression shorts, and my Outdoor Research Badwater-style hat with flaps, which held plenty of ice and kept me pretty cool when it was wet. Other equipment included Oakley sunglasses and my well-worn Ultimate Direction AK vest (first generation).

I have not said this to anyone--not even my wife--but after my Bighorn DNF, and really after my 2014 Leadville 100 (which I finished but it was ugly), my confidence as a runner was shattered. I didn't know if I could finish another 100. I questioned not only my gut but also my mental toughness. Had I lost it? I wasn't sure. If I lost it, I seemed to have found it at Javelina, where I ran every step of the last 27 miles, passing scores of runners because I had a deep desire to perform at my best. I thought about my wife and our son every step of the way in those final 27 miles. I wanted to make them proud--and I wanted to prove to myself that I can still run 100s and be a good "closer."

Javelina is harder than advertised. The 600-foot climb on each loop wasn't terrible but it was just enough to wear you down over the course of the 102 miles. The trail has some sweet smooth sections and a few fairly technical stretches. There are some stretches where you can really open up the pace. That said, living in Colorado, nothing on the actual course scared me at all.

What really makes Javelina challenging is the heat and the distance between some of the aid stations, like the 6.5 miles from Jackass Junction to Coyote Camp. Although it got to "only" 80 degrees, we were totally exposed to that famous Arizona sun and by 2pm I was fairly hot. At around mile 54, I puked. I ran the next 6.5 miles not in the best of shape but in good enough shape to keep trailing Pam Reed. When we got to the mile-60 aid station, Coyote Camp, I was in bad shape and started puking again--likely from being over-heated. "Here we go again," I said to myself as I barfed in the trash can. But I quickly put away negative thoughts and instead focused on fixing the situation, starting with some broth and water. Thankfully, I was able to regroup and finish strong with no more gut issues.

My strong finish came down to sheer determination to have a good race, but also to some really good fuel. The last 40 miles were fueled by water, boiled potatoes with a heavy dose of salt, Mountain Dew, and broth. I found that if I chased the Mountain Dew with plenty of water, I was OK. I just cannot handle big doses of sugary stuff.

Simply put, I was on fire in the last 27 miles. I haven't run that well in a 100 since the 2013 Leadville 100. When I do Billy Idol-like howls coming into aid stations, as I did as Javelina Jeadquarters at mile 77, I'm pumped. And boy was I pumped. So, all in all, this was a great race for me. I got my confidence back and I know I can keep racing 100s because the mental toughness that propelled me for so long is still there.

But it wasn't all mental toughness. I trained right. I put in good volume. I ran hill repeats. I lifted weights. I came into the race having had an exceptional taper and was in good shape. I was very well-hydrated going into Javelina (proper hydration prior to a race, I have found, is a week-long process). I think all the weight training I did in the mid summer up to Javelina paid off in a huge way--even as it resulted in me "gaining" a few pounds in muscle weight. I cannot stress enough how important resistance training is as we age. I'm now a believer.

It was so awesome to share the trail with such a wonderful group of runners. Everyone seemed to have a good time, even amid very tough conditions with the heat, and the aid stations were full of happy, helpful volunteers just there to assist where they could. The entire atmosphere was one of celebration. It's clear the love, friendliness and compassion you feel in this race starts with the guys who run the show.

While I'm not one to get star-struck, I will admit that it was quite a thrill to see Karl Meltzer in action. Even as we're very different runners (obviously), I've always admired the "Wasatch Speedgoat." He has so much mojo and it's easy to see why he's an intimidating runner. He's a big guy (like me), and yet he moves fast and he just has a presence on the trail that's difficult to describe.

I also greatly enjoyed running with Pam Reed. We didn't say a word to each other during the race, as we stayed within about 100 feet of each other for maybe 30 miles, but the day before we chatted it up. Pam is not only a wonderfully friendly person but also an incredible runner. She's like a metronome in that she never stops and she keeps moving at the same pace regardless of the grade of the trail. I was in awe of her. It's easy to see how she became the first woman to win the Badwater Ultramarathon outright.

Finally, how awesome it was to chat briefly with Ann Trason. I have always considered Ann the greatest ultrarunner to ever live. Although Yiannis Kouros is no slouch, he was never the well-rounded runner that Ann was in her prime. Ann, like Scott Jurek (and Ellie Greenwood to some extent), dominated on the road and trail and at just about every distance, setting course records and world records along the way. She's a warm, humble person and I simply relished the 2-3 minutes we ran together as she was making her way into the 100K finish. She will not admit what a great runner she was in her prime. Running next to Ann was a moment I'll never, ever forget. It was like shooting hoops with Michael Jordon or throwing the football with Joe Montana.

I also have to say how cool it was to see Gordy Ainsleigh out there. As we passed each other the first time, I thanked him for founding 100-mile racing. You could say Gordy's had an impact :-).

Congrats to all my buddies who finished a great race. That includes Chuck (11th overall in the 100-mile), AJ (8th overall in the 100K) and Jon (27th overall in the 100-mile). It was a fun, rewarding day and I had nothing but a great time while in the Scottsdale area.

Now, it's time to rest a little and enjoy the ski season. Oh yeah, I also need to enter the Western States lottery now that I'm qualified for 2016!

OK, so that wasn't very brief. Sorry!