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.