Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 05, 2011 - North Face 50mile Championships

Thoughts Coming into the Race:
As race day approached, I found the anticipation of getting things going almost unbearable at times. Tapering is always such a tough mental exercise in patience.

The depth of this event was incredible and I couldn't wait to get out there and test myself in a 50miler against these guys. My last organized 50miler was Jemez in 2009. Based on my training & mindset leading into that event, I wouldn't say I was "racing"... so I was approaching this as my first 50mile race.

Getting to the Race:
Before I got to the start line, I had a bit of "drama" to deal with... First, they held the pre-race packet pick-up in Downtown San Francisco. For me that was an adventure.. but I made it out alive.. barely. Second, I show-up Saturday morning at 3:30am for the Shuttle Service to the race and to my surprise.. There was no shuttle!!!.. Talk about stress.. Eventually, I found my way to the starting line with a few minutes to get ready.. I am still not sure why the race decided not to pick us up??.. Despite all the drama, I ended up making it to the starting line.. and I felt ready to race.

The Race:
At 5am the gun went off. As we march off into the darkness, a large pack forms and quickly settles into a conservative pace. Excluding 2 guys from Salomon, we all stuck together and settled into a 6:15-ish /mile pace... each of us not wanting to lead due to a wicked head wind. Unfortunately for me, I some how was in the front with another runner, Jordan McDougal.. and we were providing a bit of a wind break for the field. During these miles, the Salomon guys took off and were quickly out of sight.

After 5miles of staying together and breaking the wind, I decided I wanted to close some of the gap on what was now 3 Salomon runners. Within a few miles, I had worked some separation from the rest of the field and was closing the gap on at least 2 of the front runners. Looking at my Garmin, I noticed that I dropped a couple 5:30-ish min miles.. but to be honest, I felt very comfortable, so I wasn't too concerned.

Around mile 10, I whipped by one of the Salomon Runners from South America. At the same time, I had managed to put about 2min on the "chase pack". Around that point, I came to a Y in the trail. I didn't see any markers telling me to turn, so I kept going straight up hill. As I looked over my shoulder, I saw the string of headlamps make the left turn that I passed.... Ouch!!.. I had already gone off course!!.. Even though it was very early in the race, it sucked in that I had put some effort into developing some separation.. and now I had just lost it all.. and then some due to a wrong turn..

I tried to stay calm.. but I couldn't.. I put in a surge and within a mile I had regained my lead on this group and was back in third. The problem was I burned up a bit of energy doing it. I should have accepted the fact that I went off trail and been more patient with regaining contact, but my temper just didn't allow it.

Honestly, the next 10 to 15miles are almost a blur. There was a group of about 10 of us that stuck together. We eventually caught and passed the Salomon rabbits, but I lost contact with the lead group around mile 24 when I stopped to take a leak. I was never able to regain the time I lost. The next 6 miles up to mile 30 I just tried to stay relaxed and I hope for a strong finish. I knew that I was only a few minutes behind the leaders and there was still plenty of race to run.
Somewhere around mile 30, I started getting passed.. first by Adam Campbell and Tim Olsen. Next by Jezz Bragg... then a few other folks... Then Jason Schlarb came wizzing by me.. It was pretty clear... I was bonking. Looking at my Garmin, between miles 31 and 38, I dropped a couple 12 to 13min miles... and believe me, it was NOT all uphill.. there was a good amount of gentle down.. and flat that I was now having trouble with. My quads were crying.. my stomach was growling.. I was in the pain cave and not liking it. In retrospect, I wonder if some of this was mental. I know that there was a definite physical aspect, but mentally, I became resigned to the fact that I wasn't going to catch up with the leaders and I think this simply crushed my motivation.

Around mile 38, I started to pull out of this hole and actually felt pretty good. I had been passed by a good number of runners, so now my focus was to go after as many as possible and hope for a Top 10 finish. I was steadily increasing the intensity of the next 10 miles. The miles started to fly by and I was passing people left and right.. Most of the people were 50k participants, but it was still a good feeling to catch and pass people on the trail.

At mile 47-ish, I noticed that one guy (ended up being Mike Foote) was on my tail and despite how hard I pushed, I wasn't able to gap him. He would continually close any gap I could muster up. With only 2 to 3miles to go, I kept telling myself, "If I keep my foot on the gas, he won't be able to get me".. so that's what I did. With about 1mile to go, I come to another section of trail where I see ribbons going in both directions. Based on the advice of one of the 50k runners and a couple spectators, I went straight... I quickly noticed that in the crazy bunches of ribbons flagging the course, there was no "orange" color.. which is my color... Dang it!!.. I took another wrong turn. I can see that 2 other 50 mile guys were smarter than me and went the right direction (Mike Foote & Jason Schlarb). Not wanting to lose all the hardwork that I had put in over the past 10miles to hold-off these guys, I started letting the legs go!!..
My last mile was a 5:20. I ended up passing Mike Foote with about 20m to go, so the wrong turn didn't cost me any placing.. but it definitely made me work harder than I wanted over the 50th mile.

I ended up finishing my first 50mile Race in 8th place in a time of 6hrs 52min. This result was not exactly what I expected, but all things considered, I am happy with both the effort and the outcome.

Post Race Reflections:
After any race where things didn't go exactly as planned, I have a tendency to reflect and try to figure out what I need to do differently to reach my goals. As such, below are a few things I need to do to be a more competitive Ultra Guy.... if that's what I want to do.
(1) Long Runs - Need to do more efforts over 4hrs. In the past 12months, I only had 3 runs longer than 4hrs.
(2) Nutrition - Still need to work on dialing this in over the longer efforts to prevent the severe "downs" in energy.
(3) Course Navigation - Some how I need to get better at this. May be a case of taking more time at "unclear" junctions.
(4) Experience - Learned that Ultras are like any other race.. If you want to win, you can't count on coming from behind. Fighting the urge to "let guys go" in the middle of the race is just as critical in the Ultra distances as it is in any other distance.

All in all... I had fun.. and I look forward to the next adventure in 2012!!..

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Solid Few Weeks... Plus a Link to TNF 50 Preview

First things first, my training over the past few weeks hasn't been "stellar" but it has been solid. I have been able to mix in a good amount of climbing (short & long) with some faster paced runs. Other than having to fight a very weak cold over the past 5 days, I feel really good.. and I am ready to do battle with an amazing field at TNF50 this weekend.

With that being said, I am amazed to see just how deep this field is. Below, I have copied a link to a race preview that outlines just how stacked the race is this year. To add to this author's list, there are a good number of solid runners that he doesn't even mention (some noted in the comments to the article). It's going to be a wild race...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fun Turns into Pain & Misery.. then Relief

Part 1 - Fun: After a smooth (but early) drive to the Canyon, I showed up just after sunrise. I was pretty excited as I had a long day planned. My plan was to head down S.Kaibab to Phantom.. then follow the Kaibab trail over to Cottonwood Campground at the base of the N.Rim. Then turnaround and do it in reverse.  I have done this one several times and always find it challenging.

On my "jog" over to the SRim, I am feeling pretty tight. My right hip & left knee weren't too excited about the tough running ahead, but my hope was that they would loosen up over the course of the run.
When I got to the Rim, the first 1/2 mile or so was covered in about 2 inches of ice. Not wearing traction, I decided to take it VERY easy. I noticed some of the hikers were actually sliding down on their "bums". It reminded me of watching Polar Bears slide across ice and snow.. it was pretty amusing until slipped.. then I thought maybe their technique wasn't such a bad idea.. I was too proud to join them.. and my short shorts weren't conducive to a comfortable "slide".. so I just took even easier... I covered the first Half Mile in almost 10min.. yahoo!!..

The rest of the descent was a lot less exciting and I eventually hit the river in about 56min. Not too bad.
After a quick stop at Phantom, I started to make my way over to Cottonwood. Similar to all my long runs over the past month, I tried to keep the effort fairly tempered. I was flying along until about Ribbon Falls (couple miles shy of Cottonwood). At that point, my right hip flexor started to give me a bit of trouble.. Then about a half mile further, I noticed that my left IT Band wasn't too happy. Every time I lengthened my stride on a climb, it sent shooting pains up and down my leg.. uh-oh.. not a good sign. I decided to keep going since I was so close to Cottonwood.

When I got to the water stop, I filled up.. munched a bit.. did a quick stretch.. and headed back to Phantom. I made it from the River to Cottonwood in 1hr 5min.

About halfway back is when I slipped into.... Pain & Misery...

Part 2 - Pain & Misery:  So I am about 22 miles into a 33 mile day... and the last 7miles cover the most difficult portion of the course. Things don't look so good for me. The buzzards hadn't started to circle, but with each step, I kept wondering "how much longer will I get to run before my knee & / or hip tighten up to the point where I can't run".. Mile by mile went by and though my pace was fading, my leg / hip held up enough that I could continue moving forward.

As I approached the S.Kaibab ascent, I noticed my split from Cottonwood to the River was 1hr 6min. Now that I am to the final 7miles, I was really worried that I would have to hike almost the whole thing. Each time I took a climbing step where I had to push off with my left leg.. extreme pain would shoot through my legs. As always, there is only one way out of the Canyon... Climbing up.. so I kept moving forward, prepared for a long walk if necessary.

As I pumped my way up the Canyon trail, I decided to keep my steps as short as possible and just try to keep from over extending too much. This plan worked.. and every time I forgot the strategy, I was quickly reminded with shooting pain. Before I knew it, I was to Cedar Ridge (about 25min from my Car) and I had yet to walk a single step.. That's about the time I felt... Relief.

Part 3 - Relief: I hustled my way up the rest of the run and got to the top of the Rim fromm the River in a sluggish 1hr 30min. At the finish, I was overcome with a feeling of.... Relief. That run could have gotten ugly really quick, but I somehow got through it.. and actually other than the "tightness" felt pretty good. I am not sure what to take from that run other than I need to stretch a TON... I guess I gained a little humility and perspective as well. I realize that doing these longer runs is no joke... and that I have to be focused on all the small things during the week to make sure my body is up to running these longer distances... or.. maybe there is another explanation.. I am just a wuss and I need to suck it up.

Friday, November 11, 2011

November 11, 2011 - Busy Couple Weeks.. But Some Great Running..

Over the past couple weeks, I have been feeling really good.. It's the best I have felt since my summer training. My mileage has ranged between mid90s to low100miles / week, my pace in workouts has come easily, and I am recovering quickly. What more could I ask for.. Below I have highlighted some of my major runs during an intense 8day period....

Grand Canyon S.Kaibab Rim to Phantom & Back - This was a solid run. My focus was to keep it somewhat conservative all day. I didn't want to dig to deep on my first trip out. Despite, taking it easy I managed a 56min trip from the Rim to River. The run from the bridge to Phantom was very relaxed and took me about 15min round trip. On the run up, I once again focused on keeping the pace under control. Despite hiking behind a mule train for 7min, I made the climb out in 1hr 11min. That is really fast for me especially considering how much I tempered my effort. I hoped this was a sign of things to come...

A1 21miler -  This run is a fairly flat run for the first & last 7miles. The middle 7 is very rolling, but somewhat fast. I kept it somewhat subdued the first 7miles on the gradual uphill grade and averaged 6:40/mile pace. The next 7miles, I decided to pick it up a bit and kept each mile between 5:50 and 6:10/mile pace. My original plan was to "throw-down" over the final 7miles, but my legs were still feeling the Canyon run from a few days before. As such, I decided to keep the pace steady, but not too fast. I ended up closing out the final 7miles at a 6:20/mile clip. I was very happy with the effort.

Elden Up Over & Back from Buffalo Park - This run starts at Buffalo Park then hop on the Pipeline Trail, which is quite rolling, to Forces of Nature Trail.  This trail is a rocky, winding single track, which connects me to Fat Man’s Loop.  The footing is about the same as Forces of Nature Trail.  I then run to Elden Lookout Trail, which takes me to the Summit of Elden.  From the Summit, I head down Elden Road to the Gate, where I have water & gel waiting for me.  At that point, I turn around.. and do it again in reverse.  All in all, this run includes ~5,500 of climbing and  ~5,500 of descent… and covers about 28miles.  The trails range from super technical to smooth dirt road.  A great mix…. and a tough day of running.

As I started this run, my focus again was to keep the effort fairly subdued. The miles came very easily and throughout the run I continually beat splits from my previous runs on this course. The last 5miles I really pulled back the effort as I didn't want to "dig to deep". Eventually I finished the run in 3:48:05 (my fastest time about 1.5min). My splits were Buffalo to 1st Lookout Trail Sign 36:27, 1st Sign to Summit 34:37, Summit to Elden Road Gate 37:07, Gate to Summit 49:09, Summit to 1st Sign 28:05, 1st Sign to Buffalo 42:38.

All in all, I am feeling really good about where I am at right now. I just need to keep things on track through early December. It appears that the start list for the North Face 50miler is turning into a Who's Who of Ultra Running. I am really looking forward to competing with these guys.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011 - What's Next..??

During my recovery time from Chicago, my plan was to take a good number of days off.. then ease my way back into some relaxed running.. I started to do this last week and then I came down with the "cold that won't quit"..it's very mild, but it just won't go away.. It's forced me to take a few more days off / easy.. which probably isn't a bad thing... Also, during this time, I wanted to decide on.. "what's next". Over the past few weeks, I have batted around a few ideas... Do I chase the Qualifier in the Marathon... Take some time off.... Race an Ultra... Run a fast Rim to Rim to Rim.. ???..

Since I haven't run an organized Ultra since Jemez 50miler in May of 2009, (which was an eye-opening experience to say the least)... I decided that running an Ultra would be the most enjoyable thing for me to do next. After a little bit of searching around, I decided on the North Face 50mile Championships in San Francisco. The main reason I chose this race is that it is typically very competitive. The way I see it, if I am going to race, I want it to be as competitive as possible.

So once I get back to "healthy", the plan is long runs.. and more long runs mixed in with some tempos and fartleks. I am pretty excited about the race and I am REALLY looking forward to getting in some good, long trail runs..

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10, 2011 – Chicago Marathon

Leading up to Chicago was an interesting process.  After TRR, I had to deal with some MAJOR fatigue issues which affected my ability to train.  Looking back, I would guess that it took somewhere between 3.5 to 4 weeks to get my energy levels back to “normal”.  That leaves me about 2 weeks to train… oh wait, I have to taper… so that leaves me no real time to train.

In all honesty, I thought most of the training had already been done.  I just wanted about 3 to 4 weeks to “sharpen” things up with some speedwork & tempo runs.  Unfortunately, my fatigue just didn’t allow for that.  As such, I went into Chicago a little leery of what might happen… I thought it was possible I could have a great race, but I wouldn’t have put money on it.

So race day is here.  The forecast called for temps in the 80s and high humidity.  With both my training and the weather in mind, I decided that I wanted to be very conservative early and just work into the race.  My plan was to run the first mile at a pace I felt VERY comfortable doing… and hope it was close 5:15min/mile.  If that happened, I would just hold the pace.. If it was faster, so be it.. if it was slower, then I would push the pace to see how it felt and make a decision on whether I could maintain it over the entire course.

As I made my way into the Elite Development corral area, I felt a bit like a cow with his herd as I was pressed up against my fellow competitors.  Then they allowed the Corral A folks to come up and suddenly I felt more like I was in a mosh-pit at a Metallica concert getting shoved from every direction.  Taking in the smell of B.O. and Icy Hot, I kept thinking…”Dude, this a marathon.. not 100m dash.”.. but that is just the mentality of some folks I guess.

The gun went off and I shoved my way through the sea of slower runners that felt compelled to get in front of me 5seconds before..  Hopping to the outside, I settled into a pace I felt was comfortable and hoped that the pace was “fast”.

When I came through mile 1, I looked at my watch… 5:37.  Yikes.  That was A LOT slower than I thought it would be.  At that point, I decided to push the pace to see where that would put me.

As I pushed through mile 2, I felt myself working a fair amount.  My split for mile 2 was 5:13.  At that point, I did some quick thinking… I knew I could hold that 5:13 to 5:17 pace for the next 10 to 12miles, but I was dead certain that today, I had no chance of finishing if I did.  So I decided to slide back into mid 5:20s, which still wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it felt good enough that I thought I could maintain that pace to the finish.   

The miles slowly passed and several times I contemplated dropping out.  I just didn’t have it.  My right hip was tight, my left foot & knee hurt, and I had zero “juice”.  I have only dropped out of one race my entire life.. a 10k Cross Country race in College in which I had the flu and was running with a 102degree temperature.  I HATE dropping out, so I kept telling myself that wasn’t an option ... and pushed ahead.

I was able to maintain 5:25 pace through the half way point, but I could feel the heat starting to take it’s toll.. and my body was already feeling kind rough.

My pace started to slide as I entered what I think is the hardest part of the Marathon distance…  Mile 15 through 20.  For me, it becomes a mental battle of staying on pace during these miles.  Even though I grunted and pushed through this section my pace slid into the 5:45 to 5:50 range.

I recall at mile 18 that I had to focus on “shortening my stride” and focusing on turnover.  I usually start thinking this around mile 22.. so that’s not a good sign, but what can you do..  keep moving forward.

The last 3miles were down right painful.  Though my breathing was fine, my body felt like a pile of hamburger… ground-up.  I hobbled my way to the finish and crossed the line in 2hrs 29min 6sec.

Sometimes at the end of a race when I don’t meet my goals, I automatically slide into a depressed state that can take weeks to pull out of.  Today, that didn’t happen.  I was just happy that I made it to the finish.  The time was nowhere near what I think I am capable of running… but today was just not my day and I still found a way to dig-deep and gut out a respectable finish.  The time may not be the result that I have dreamed about over the past 6 months, but the effort and determination that I had to draw upon were just as big of an accomplishment to me.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 25, 2011 – Recovery + Crash + Rest + Tour de Pee Vee Half Marathon

It’s been a while since my last post, because honestly, there hasn’t been too much to post about.  Following Transrockies I took a few days off and did some easy runs.  To get ready for my next big race – Chicago Marathon, I followed the easy week with a 90mile week, but was struggling with low energy in my workouts.  The third week out from Transrockies was more of the same.  I hit around 115miles for the week, but on my last run of the week, which was a long run on A1 Forest Service Road, my body broke down on me.

After that I run, I did some thinking… Looking back, my body has been tired since I was about 2weeks out from Day 1 of TransRockies.  Though I took some down time, I don’t think it was enough… my body is pretty hosed.  First it was due to the wicked training we did for TransRockies.. then add the actual TransRockies race and I was pretty well in the tank. 

As such, my focus over the next few weeks… Get Rested.  Hit Some Solid Workouts.  Get Ready to Run Fast at Chicago.  So this week, my miles dipped down to just under 70miles, but I had a solid 200m workout on Wednesday, and a good tempo run on Saturday at the Tour de Pee Vee Half Marathon in Prescott.

The race was a really low key “local” style race.  It started at 7am, so I had to wake early and hit the road by 4:30am… ouch!!..

The course was surprisingly difficult.  Not only does it start and finish at an altitude of 5,100ft, but the race was constantly rolling up and down hills.  It was not what I would call a fast race, but it was fun to run over some new terrain.

I ended up posting a 1hr 12min 15sec time over the course, which I was pretty happy with considering the level of difficulty.  This was good enough for 1st Place and a new Course Record.  Coming into the race, my hope to run right at 1hr 12min “comfortably”.  I felt I achieved this as I never felt as if I had to dig too deep, excluding a couple of the long uphills around mile 10.

At this point, I feel as if I am headed in the right direction.  I think that my original goal of running a 2hr 17min Marathon at Chicago is not out of reach, but it really all depends on what happens over the next couple weeks and on race day.  I am going to focus on what I can control and I think good things will happen…

Tour de Pee Vee Half Marathon Course Profile:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

September 4, 2011 – TransRockies Stage 6 – Finish it up!

Course Description:  Well the course designers didn’t make it any easier on the last day.  It’s a 24mile day that starts out with 3miles of Road Running taking you into 3 fairly tough climbs totaling 5,100ft of total elevation gain.  The finish is about 1mile after the last climb down a forest service road.

What Happened:  Mike and I were prepared to run a solid day.. recovered and relaxed.. but focused.  The mood at camp the last night was very subdued.  All of the teams that we had been battling over the past few days had now let their guards down (including Mike & I) and talked a bit more.  It was good to see that even though the competition was fierce all week, we could all let it go and enjoy each other’s company.

Despite the relaxed nature of camp, the next morning we had to finish the race.  Stage 6 started out just as all the other stages.  Very Steady.  We were clipping along at 6min – 6:20min/mile pace til the first climb.  At that point, Mike and I had about 30sec on the field and decided to work the climb.  By the time we were at the top, we began to relax a bit and kept it mellow on the downhill.

Starting the next climb, both Team Bend and Team Salomon had closed the gap significantly and by the time we hit the 2nd Aid Station, Team Bend was no more than 20sec behind.  They were working it pretty hard.

In response, Mike & I put our foot on the gas.  We kept it going til we got to the final climb.  At this point, my mind almost “shutdown”.  We were dragging up the last climb. Definitely our slowest running all week.. but mentally it was tough to push, because I kept thinking, “It’s over.”

Well, we slowly got up the last climb, and booked it down the last 1.5miles into the finish.  Approaching the finish line, it started to sink in…. We just WON TRANSROCKIES!!!!.. Crossing the finish line Mike & I exchanged hi-fives, hugs, etc..

Mike was an AMAZING partner.  He is an amazing runner.. but more importantly, an amazing person.  There were a lot of moments I felt like I was just “along for the ride” as he drove us to victory.

The competition at the event this year was unbelievable.  It was a dog-fight all week.. .but a real blast.  I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. 

The support from all the Flagstaff Runners (+25people) and Flagstaff Volunteers was out of this world.  When things were going well, they were there with hugs.  When things weren’t going so well, they were there with open-hands to help pull us up.  I knew Flagstaff had an amazing running community, but after this years TransRockies, I have a whole new appreciation for this town and it’s athletes.  AWESOME!..

The support from Flagstaff went beyond the folks at the race.  The well wishes we received from the folks not at the event was equally impressive and equally appreciated.

Thanks to everyone for the calls, emails, texts, etc.  Each bit of encouragement played a huge part in our success and was VERY appreciated.  Thanks!!!

The BIGGEST THANKS to my Wife & 3 Boys for their understanding and flexibility.  Love you guys!!

Mike and I "Finishing It Up"

Celebrating the Good Times!!

Interview at the end of Stage 6:

September 4, 2011 – TransRockies Stage 5 – Fired Up and Ready to Run Hard

Course Description: Stage 5 is basically Stage 4 stretched over 23miles vs 14miles.  You climb for about 10miles.  The grade gradually increases as you get closer to the summit.  Then you run for several miles along the ridge at an altitude of just under 12k.   Then you drop down some single track and forest service roads into the town of Vail.

What Happened:  At the end of Stage 4, Mike and I felt really solid.  I am starting to feel better on Day 4 and 5 than I did on day 1, 2, or 3.  So we are pretty fired up.

To assist in the motivation department, during the ceremonies for Stage 4, there was a brief moment of silence as they set up some equipment.  At that point, someone in the crowd yelled, “Flagstaff is going down!!!” We are not sure who yelled it.. or why, but we definitely deposited that in the “motivation bank” and planned to use it during Stage 5.

As we line up in Red Ciff for the start of Stage 5, we were fired up.  Adding more fuel, I see Max King is wearing his “skort”.  Honestly, I am not a big fan of this.  He did this last year on Stage 5 and beat my partner and I.  It’s just not a good feeling getting beat that way.  I looked over at Mike and words were not necessary… we were going to run hard all day long.

The gun went off and as with every day, several teams set the pace.  We were cruising along at about 6:30/mile for the first 3miles.  Eventually, the field spread out and it was once again Team Run Flagstaff vs. Team Bend. 

Around Mile 4, the grade got a little bit steeper, so Mike and I decided to push the pace.  Over the next few miles, we were unable to shake the guys from Bend, but we just kept applying pressure.  Before we knew it, the trail was getting steeper, and at that point, we started putting chunks of time on the field.  By the time we hit the summit, we couldn’t see who was in second place.

Not wanting to get caught, we decided to run even harder along the top.  As we got to the start of the descent, we still couldn’t see 2nd place.   We decided to continue cranking until we were at least a few miles out.

Hitting the single track downhill portion, our focus shifted on trying to stay on course.  Our pace slowed quite drastically as we scanned the course for yellow ribbons.  This hadn’t been an issue over the first 4 days, but today it seemed as if the markings were not adequate.  We closed out the downhill very cautiously, and before we knew it, we could hear the music coming from the finish.  At that point, we took a deep breath, pulled back and cruised in not knowing what was going on behind us.

We finished in a time of 2hrs 55min 25sec.  Team Salomon finished in 3hrs 8min 52sec (they got off course and lost a few minutes)… while Team Bend finished 3rd in 3hrs 9min 50sec.

Doing the math, we figured out that we increased our lead over 2nd place by nearly 15min.  Though it felt good to have a bit of cushion, we still had a long, hard Stage 6 to get through.  As soon as we finished, we had a brief chat… there would be no letting up.. and we would run stage 6 as if it were stage 1.  Finish it up. 

Mike & I Striding Towards the Finish

Interview Following Stage 5:

Friday, September 2, 2011

September 2, 2011 - TransRockies Stage 4 - Running with Fire

Course Description: Stage 4 is a climbers dream. It's a shorter stage, but what it doesn't have in distance, it makes up for in steepness. The course starts in Camp Hale where you run about 2miles to the base of the toughest, steepest climb of the week. The climb is about 3miles long and you gain nearly 3,000ft.. topping out at around 11,700ft. From there, you run on the top, which is a rolling net gain trail that lasts about 2.5 miles. Then you drop straight down for several miles.. running through a half mile long ice cold river whose bottom is rocky and ridiculous... but fun. The last several miles into Red Cliff are a slight grade and make for some very fast running.

What Happened: Coming out of Stage 3 and some of the drama throughout the subsequent day and evening, Mike and I were ready to race... and race fast. As the gun went off, we forced ourselves to take the first several miles somewhat subdued. The pace was set by Mario Mendoza, whose partner dropped out the day before. Apparently, he was on fire too, because the first few miles were sub6min pace. Pretty aggressive considering that we are charging towards a wicked climb. The biggest difference from today and the previous days was that Team Bend was starting out behind us. I wasn't sure if it was strategic or if after yesterday's super-human effort they were fatigued.. honestly, I hoped for the latter.

As we made our way to the climb, Mike and I quickly hopped to the front and started pressing the climb. Within a mile, the only teams visible were the Inov-8 Boys and Team Bend. As we continued to fire our way up the steeper grades, we began to put more space between us and the rest of the field. We committed to pressing the pace even more as we didn't want a repeat of Stage 2 where we got caught on the downhill and flat sections. By the time we hit the first ridge and closed out the final uphill portion, we had quite a bit of breathing room. Now it was time to crush the rolling section to ensure we had some space on the downhill.

We dug deep on the top and averaged 6min miles for the rolling, high altitude section. Now time for the descent. No holding back this time. Quads be damned.. we decided. We are NOT going to get caught this time.

Smashing our way down the backside, we both started literally screaming at the top of our lungs. All of the negative garbage from the night before was surfacing and now flying out of us via yells. Undoubtedly we looked and sounded insane, but honestly, it felt good and help to propel us down the mountain.

We made quick work of the river portion and made it through without so much as a slip. We then focused on turnover and hammered the final few miles into Red Cliff at a swift 5:20/mile pace.... crossing the finish line in an amazing 1hr 44min 33sec . Team Inov8 Finished 2nd in 1hr 47min 55sec .. Team Salomon finished third in 1hr 48min 00sec .. while Team Bend was fourth in 1hr 50min 16sec... For a point of reference on how fast all the teams ran, the winning time last year was1hr 58min 5sec

After finishing, we found out that Ryan Bak, suffering from a bit of a tight hamstring developed in Stage 3, had a tough time with some of the technical terrain and fell several times... He eventually needed stitches and damaged his toe pretty seriously... being a tough guy, he committed to finishing the event.

After today's effort, we regained the lead by a very slim margin of a little over 1min ahead of Team Bend. Day 5 was set to be another battle, but we were ready.

Inteview at the end of Stage 4 (nice look on my face to start the inteview):

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1, 2011 - TransRockies Stage 3 - At the Bottom of the Emotional Barrel

Course Description: Stage 3 from Leadville to Camp Hale is a relatively flat stage that covers 24.2miles while climbing only 2,800ft. You start at 10,500 ft. and finish at 9,300ft. There are two small climbs and a long steady descent.

What Happened: Even though there were no major climbs for Mike and I to take advantage of we were hoping that the overall elevation of the course would propel us to another strong day and hopefully help us build a bit more of a lead.

As the gun went off, we once again sat at the back of the lead pack and let some of the other teams set the pace. The first 3miles or so were on pavement, so I was able to relax and run without thinking much. As we approached the trail, the first small climb was in front of us. Mike and I, as in previous days, hopped into the lead and started pressing the climb. By the time we hit the summit we had about 45sec on Team Bend and a bit more on the rest of the field. Max and Ryan ate this lead up pretty quickly on the subsequent downhill and before we knew it they were out of sight.

The plan was to hold a solid pace through the next aid station and work the next small climb. We stuck with the plan, but for the first time all week, neither Mike or I had a lot of "zing" in our legs. I was dragging myself over the course to the first Aid station. The trail and surrounding scenery seemed to all blend to together. I felt as if I was barely awake.

At Aid Station 1, the volunteers inform us we are about 1min back... not too bad considering.
After trudging along through the middle miles, we hit Aid Station 2. We get the news that we are only 2min behind... I am thinking "Great. Maybe we can close a bit over the last 3miles and maintain our overall lead."

The next portion was downhill, winding single track. We pushed fairly hard to ensure we didn't lose much more time... and hopped down the final stretch of trail into Aid Station 3. We are told... "You guys are 6minutes behind!!!.." What the _ _ _ _?!!! How did that happen??.. After cursing for the next 3miles, we picked up the pace a hair and hoped that we wouldn't lose much more time.

As we came through the finish chute, we are actually berated by the announcer. "Well, the Flag Boys couldn't hold on and they lost the lead... The Boys from Bend really put it on them today".. and so on. Ouch!!.. not sure that was called for, but I guess it was true.
We finished in 2hrs 53min 55sec. Team Bend finished in 2hrs 47min 3sec. Last year's winning time was 3hrs 7min 4sec.

The next few hours were undoubtedly the lowest point of the race. We lost the lead. We were tired. Oh yeah, and it's only Day 3. I was starting to make excuses and become resigned to the fact that we may have to settle for 2nd place.

After a few hours of sulking, a few "things" happened at camp that sparked the competitive fires. By the time the Stage 3 ceremonies were over, I was literally on fire... I wanted to race.. now!.. After digging ourselves out from that emotional low, Mike and I now found ourselves with a new, fiery edge. We were ready to compete again. Bring on Day 4!!!

Mike and I making it through Stage 3.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 31, 2011 - TransRockies Stage 2 - Up and Over Hope Pass

Course Description: Stage 2 up Hope Pass is a bit of a monster. It's the shortest day, but tough nonetheless. You start out running up a gradual grade for about 2miles. At that point, you start the 3mile-ish climb up Hope Pass topping out around 12,600ft. Then you drop down the root and rock covered descent that is by far and away the most technical portion of the entire week. Once at the bottom, you spend the next 5miles on rolling, winding, rocky single track all the way to the finish.

What Happened: Day 2 started out similar to Day 1.. at a pretty steady clip. Mike and I sat at the back of the pack most of the first 2 miles. At that point, we started to maneuverer our way to the front before we hit the single track climb. The first 1/2mile of the climb was led by the Inov 8 guys. We had heard that they were awesome climbers, so I wasn't too surprised. As the trail started to really "jack-up", Mike and I whipped around them and took the lead. We were hoping to put some time on the field during the climb, so that we didn't have to work as hard on the steep down hill portion.

As we gun our way up to the top, we are putting bits of time on the field here and there. We have about 1mile to go and as we look down, we see the familiar faces of Team Bend staying about 45sec back. We were hoping to have more time, but we didn't panic, we just kept pushing. A few minutes later as we grind our way to the top and the gap between us and second is opening up a bit more. At that same time, I feel this hand hit the small of my back and then.. SHOVE.... 2 seconds later.. I feel it again.. SHOVE.. We are crushing it and Mike has the energy to push me up the Mountain... no other way to put it.. IMPRESSIVE...

As we crest Hope Pass, we have about 2min on Team Bend and the Salomon Boys from Europe - Tom Owens & Ricky Lightfoot. It's time to hang on for dear life...
As we hammer our way down the backside, we are trying to keep the pace under control as we know it's going to be a long week and we wanted to save our quads for the later stages. Next thing we know, we here what sounds like "hooves" clomping down the trail. Through the rustling branches, Team Salomon literally flies by us. It was a sight to see. They seemed to have taken the form of wild animals as they swiftly strided down the rugged terrain. I wish I was carrying a camera because the sight was definitely picture worthy.

Once we get to the bottom, we begin to press the pace in hopes of closing the gap on Team Salomon. About 1.5 miles down the winding, rolling single track, we saw Team Bend and they were closing fast. Before we knew it, they had flown by us whipping around the turns on the single track. How tight they took the turns and clung to the ground reminded me of Sonic the Hedgehog. In response, we pushed the pace a bit and closed the last few miles pretty hard.

At the end of the day, Team Salomon won Stage 3 and we finished in 3rd place. Their time was 1hr 52min 50sec while we finished in 1hr 54min 47sec. Over the same course last year, the winning time was 2hr 4min 45sec. Despite taking 3rd we still had a 2.5min lead over Team Bend. Now the focus is on recovery and regrouping before we hit Stage 3.

Mike & I Pushing Up Hope Pass

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 30, 2011 - Stage 1 of TransRockies - Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge

After all of the training... talking.. driving... waiting.. it is finally time to get the 2011 TransRockies Race going. Stage 1 is a hot, dry stage with one "major climb" and technical terrain that leads you to the final 3mile stretch on a SUPER hot road that feels as though it will never end.. 

Starting a few rows from the front, we heard the gun go off. Mike and I sat on the heels of lead pack over the first 3 miles. The pace was pretty steady at 6:20/mile. As such, several teams dropped back as we made our way up the very gradual ascent.

Before we knew it, we were side by side with Team Bend (Ryan Bak & Max King). The other teams had fallen off a bit, but weren't too far behind. As we made our way to Mile 5, we were able to keep it fairly relaxed as we responded to several surges from Team Bend. When we hit the one major climb for the day, Mike and I quickly hopped around Ryan & Max and started pushing our way up the climb. Over the next 2.5miles, we were able to put about 90seconds on Team Bend.. and felt really good doing it.

As we started to make the descent, we started to relax into a nice 5:20/mile pace. This wasn't putting us out and we were confident that we wouldn't lose our lead. About 2miles later, we heard the stomping of feet.. and they were closing fast. I was in a bit of shock. Doing the math, these guys had to be running close to 4:40min/mile... As they completely close the gap, Max says, "Putting a surge on us uphill??.. that's not nice." Though it was a little disheartening, Mike and I responded by picking up the pace. We were on a flat section, but the sand was probably 6 to 8in deep on most of the trail. At this point according to the Garmin, we were dropping 5:10min/ miles. I am thinking, "How long can these guys keep this up??".. and ... "Is it going to be like this all week??"..

After 2miles of battling at this absurd pace, Max and Ryan take their foot off the gas. Mike and I keep it going for another mile or so and eventually regain our 90sec lead.
That is where it stood going into the final 3miles. 90seconds. Worried that these guys were going to roll us up on the flat, we started really cranking down the road. The miles were in the 5:40min/mile range and felt really hard as this road is super exposed, hot and just down right nasty.

We crossed the finish line in 2hrs 17min 42sec (9min faster than last year's winning time). This put us in the lead by 3min 55sec. We were really excited, but we knew there was still A LOT of race left to run.

Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29, 2011 - TransRockies.. Quick Post with more to come..

Well, the 2011 TransRockies Race is over and Mike Smith and I won.  It was amazing.  Right now, I am still trying to digest the experience.  As such, over the next few days I am going to write up and post a short recap of each stage. 

Thanks to everyone for the constant support!!.. It helped immensly and made the event that much more special. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 14, 2011 – Rolling into the Big Brother’s Big Sister Half Marathon

This week the plan was to finish up a solid week with a Race.  The Big Brother’s Big Sister Half Marathon (according to several Garmin readings this course is closer to 13.5miles). 

My recovery from a hard effort at the Canyon went a bit smoother this time.  By the time Mike and I met up on Wednesday at Buffalo Park for our workout, my legs were in a pretty good place.  The plan was to hit a 4mile tempo on the rolling loop and then mix in some hill repeats on the “sharp” graded hill. 

The 4mile Tempo went by pretty quickly.  We kept the pace right at 5:20/mile, which felt pretty good. Then we took a short break and hit the 8x Short Hill Repeats.  At that point, we felt like that was enough considering we had a hard effort coming up on Saturday.

Well.. before we knew it, Saturday had arrived. Chris Gomez (yet another local fast guy) was there so we knew the race would go out fast.  Chris is famous for his fast starts… and usually fast finishes.

The gun went off and as expected, we shot out of the gate at a low 5min/mile clip.  Mike looked over at me and said, “This is stupid”.. referring to how difficult this pace felt at the start of such a long, hard race.

After the first mile, Chris had about a 5 second lead on me… and about 10seconds on Mike.  At that point, we started our ascent up Mars Hill.. this climb is UGLY.  It covers almost a full mile and starts out fairly smooth… but by the end, the use of a grappling hook wouldn’t be out of the question.

Once we started climbing, I got antsy and started to press the climb.  By the time we got to the top, I had about a 10second lead on Mike & Chris.  This didn’t last for long.. and surging up this hill turned out to be a HUGE mistake.  As I ran the flat section after Mars Hill, I was literally gasping for air.  I was reeling.. it didn’t take much time for Chris.. then Mike to close the gap and quickly whip by me.  I attempted to go with them, but the damage was done… I was in “recovery mode”.

I kept Mike and Chris in sight hoping to make a move to close the gap at some point, but it just wasn’t there.  Mike ended up gapping Chris by a good distance and I was unable to close any serious time on either of them.

When I came through mile 8, I finally fell back in a good rhythm and decided it was “do or die” time.  I worked my way into a solid pace and by the time I hit 2.5miles to go, Chris only had about 25 to 30seconds.. down from 1.5minutes.  Mike was nowhere to be seen.

As Chris flew around a turn, I saw him look back for the first time… DANG IT!!!.. He spotted me. There was no more “sneaking” my way up to him.  Over the final 2.5miles, I wasn’t able to close much of the gap.. and thus, ended up finishing in third place with a time of 1:17:45.  Not a bad time considering the course is long.. we are at 7k ft.. the course is pretty difficult.. and I ran a VERY stupid race.  Further, it served it’s original purpose of knocking some of the rust off before TransRockies... Good enough.

The View of My Short-Lived Lead (Photo by Bret Sarnquist)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

August 7, 2011 – Ending a Great Week with another Hot Day in the Grand Canyon

This week we had a pretty hard week of training in front of us.  Speed work on Monday & Wednesday.. then finish up with a final Canyon run.

Monday’s workout was 20x200m.  We kept the first 12 under control and steadily increased the pace over the last 8.  It ended up being a really solid session.

The 200’s were a perfect prelude to our 10mile Tempo run on Wednesday on Lake Mary Road.  The plan was to stick the pace on 5:30 /mile (~5:15ish altitude adjusted).  Mike and I were joined by Martin Fagan (Irish Half Marathon Record Holder - 60:57… wicked fast guy!!).  We started out ripping low 5:20s and I felt VERY comfortable doing it.  At the end of Mile 4, Martin decided to “open it up”.  Within a half mile he had put 15seconds on me.  It was pretty darn amazing to watch… but mentally it blew me up.  My 5th, 6th, & 7th miles were off.. At mile 8, I was able to bounce back, and averaged 5:28s over the last 3miles.  A solid workout.

Mike & I decided the next run would be a Rim to Phantom and back via South Kaibab.  As mentioned in other posts, this trail is a real “rough” run.  It’s made even harder by the wicked heat and the total lack of water (excluding the pump at Phantom Ranch). 

From the Start, Mike led the downhill and we were making excellent time.  I knew it would make for a tougher climb out, but the beating our legs were taking will benefit us come TransRockies.  We steadily pushed our way down and got to the river in 51:15…. a new downhill record for me.

We quickly covered the mile or so over to Phantom Ranch.  We stopped for a gel and a couple refills.  Now back to the Steeps we go…This flat section from Phantom back to River always gets me a bit anxious.  With each hesitant step, you get closer to the back-breaking South Kaibab trail… then next thing you know, it’s up you go..

I wanted to attempt to push this fairly hard.  My legs felt pretty good and I thought I had a chance to run pretty fast.  I was really slamming my way up.  I got to Midway pretty quickly, but on these super exposed switchbacks, I could feel some life getting sucked out of my legs.

I continued to grind my way up.. and I made it to Cedar Ridge in 55min from the River.  At that point, I knew I still had a good shot of putting in a solid time.  I really cruised the remainder of the trail and finished the climb in 1:12:51.  My second fastest climb up S.Kaibab from the River.  My total roundtrip from the Rim to the River & Back (excluding Phantom Ranch) was 2hrs 4min 6sec.  A new round trip record.

At this point, I am thinking… “We are ready”.. The Speed is there.. The Climbing is there.. The Strength is there.. and we have been running almost exclusively at Altitude.. Now we just have to pull back the mileage.. Let the legs come back a bit... and.. Run.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

July 30, 2011 – Closing out July with a SOLID Week

Monday morning came and as I crawled out of bed, I was still having trouble walking to the bathroom.  My quads felt like hamburger… and that’s what running in the Canyon can do to you. Since I have been doing a fair amount of steeps, I was a bit surprised that felt like this.. but it goes to show you that nothing compares to the Canyon when it comes to pounding.

Despite the soreness, I ran my planned runs on Monday.  The hardest being the 10x800m portion.  Instead of hammering the workout, I just ran it a little faster than my goal Marathon pace of 5:15/mile.

On Wednesday, the soreness had converted to tiredness.  I was actually starting to get concerned that I was working my way into being over-trained.  I knew that my workout would be a perfect indicator of if I was just tired.. or if I was at a point where I needed to back off a bit and take a few easy days. 

The planned workout was a “Fast” run up Mt. Elden Road starting from the Gate.  This route is about 5.5miles and you gain about 2,500ft.  I knew if I worked hard and ran a good time, I was probably fine.. but if I worked hard and only hit an average or below average time.. then I would have to back off some..

Well, I charged my way up the road, and despite feeling tired, I knew I was on pace to run a solid time.  As I reached the summit, I looked down at my watch and breathed a sigh of relief… as my watch read 42minutes.. My fastest time.  The last 2miles the tiredness really held me back, but I was able to hold it together and run a fast time.  

Friday was my next “workout”.  My plan was to start at Snowbowl road & Hart Prairie Road.. Run the 4.5miles to the Weatherford-Kachina Trail junction.. then run the “Loop” – Weatherford-Humphreys-Kachina hard.. and then run the 4.5miles back to my car.  Total mileage is around 29miles… The route is very technical in most parts.  It starts around 7,500ft and you climb up to 12,000ft..  then come right back down.  This is a tough one..

My 4.5mile warmup to the trail head I took really easy.  I made it to the trail head in 35:53.  Then I started to work.  I pushed my way pretty hard up to Doyle Saddle.  The last few times I have run this there were numerous downed trees, but the Forest Service had cleared about half of these over the summer… Thanks guys!!.. This makes for a much nicer / safer run.

I made it to Doyle Saddle from the Kachina-Weatherford Junction in 48:38.. and it felt fairly easy.  Now I am at 10,500ft..  the air is noticeably thinner.. and it’s time to Hammer up to 12,000ft.

I push my way through the rocky trail and make it past the grown over sections.. now I am above treeline and closing in on the 12k point, which signals the end of the ascent.  I covered this section in 32:29.. and I am on pace for a pretty fast Loop.

I cautiously start to make my way down Humphrey’s trail.  This Rocky, Sandy, Root covered trail is very technical.. each decent my number one goal is to stay on my feet.  I decided from the start to take it very easy as I didn’t want to risk getting injured.  As such, I made it to bottom in 44:15.. this is about 6min to 8min slower than my average, but my legs were kinda tired and I just didn’t want to risk taking a fall.

I hit the Kachina Trail ready to roll.  My thought was to steadily build into the run and push the sections that I can.  With all the rain, this rocky trail now has grass & ferns growing over most of it.  Each step was a bit of a question mark.. would I step on a rock?.. would I step on a root?.. who knows..

I pushed pretty steadily through this section and got back to the Kachina-Weatherford junction in 49:19.  My total time for the Loop was 2:54:41.  Pretty much a tie with my fastest time ever on this course.  Always a good feeling.

Now I just have to run 4.5miles back to my car… I took this section very easy.. and good thing, because I was beat!!.. Honestly, I felt awesome for the first 3hrs 45min, but that last 20min was a bit painful.  I ended up covering the last 4.5miles in 34:41…

My total time for the entire 29miles was 4hr 5min 15sec.  Not bad considering the route.

Now the plan is to get recovered from a tough week… and hit it again next week.  We are a little less than 3weeks out from Day 1 of TransRockies and I am starting to get pumped!!.. Soon enough, we will be running our way through the Rockies.. Can’t wait!