Monday, June 28, 2010

It may be time for a little break

Western States did not go well.

I think this past weeks events have been a clear sign that I need to take a short break and heal. I have been pushing myself pretty hard since december, and although I felt great leading up to Western States, once the gun went off I didn't feel a single spark of energy coursing through my body. No matter what I ate (caffeine or not, sugar or protein or fat) I still felt like each step could potentially be my last before I collapsed. This lack of energy also made me extremely clumsy in the snow and rocky terrain. The combination resulted in me falling down and rolling my ankle several times over the 55 miles I did complete. At the Michigan Bluff aid station, I finally decided to call it a day. I feel I still could have pushed on and made it to the finish in sub 24 hours.... but felt it was a better idea to save the ankle and see if I could recover before Vermont next month. I'm hoping I'll be rested enough to have a good finish there. After that, it would be nice to take a break from 100 milers for a while.

In the end I'm still happy with the week because I spent a lot of quality time catching up with my family and friends. It was truly a treat to be in their company. I just hope next time I can deliver a solid performance.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pre Race Appraisal

There are several things that annoy me about tapering for races. It's a natural thing to do for any big race, but it is a very frustrating process to say the least.

I have been in Squaw Valley for the past week and have been tapering for the last two. The first week involves the ultra low energy and never ending appetite. I don't mind the food issue, eating is something that makes me very happy. But no matter how many times I encounter that fatigue infested, sleeping 11 hours a day, dragging myself through 6 mile recovery runs, kind of week, it always worries me and makes me dread the race coming up.

Then you get to the second week, which is the most toughest in my opinion. Its filled with ample energy that makes you bold and eager to test your speed. You sleep less, eat less, and exercise less. This, to me, separates the body from the mind which have been working in sync for the last few months. It seems unnatural to drop down to running only 30 to 45 minutes a day because I'm used to running for 4 hours.

In the end, though, I've learned to appreciate these weeks because they leave you eager to race and keep your mind from exploding with jitters and pre-race anxiety.

Altogether I feel strong and ready for a good race.

Best wishes to all the runners tomorrow. I'm excited to see how the Pearl Izumi guys do (Nick Lewis, Nick Clark, Ian Torrence, Josh Brimhall, etc.), and I really love their sponsor's rogue deal that has sweetened the race for a lot of the top runners. Apparently $2000 is being given to anyone who breaks the CR regardless of course. Good luck guys! And of course, I wish I could be a spectator to see the showdown at the front of the pack. Good luck to those guys, they know who they are.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blue Canyon Trail Race - Western States Heat Training

If anyone has seen the race results for this race, you already know it was brutal. For those of you who haven't, here is an in-depth explanation of why only 5 people finished the 100km and 3 for the 50 miler.

I flew into Burbank airport on friday night at 8:06 and was picked up by my long time friend Jon. As we drove up to Santa Barbara I explained that the race would be hot, with forecasts in the low 90s.

I got into Santa Barbara at around 10:15 and met up with Robert Gilcrest (race director) and began organizing the aid station supplies into the truck. We then proceeded to drop these containers at each of the aid stations in the backwoods of Santa Ynes and the Los Padres National Forest. At this time, the temperature was in the low 60s and there was quite a bit of wind, enough to where I put on a jacket. This was soon to change.

We successfully stocked all of the aid stations and made it back just in time for me to change clothes and get some food in my stomach before the race started. Yes, thats right, I was going to run this 100km race with 18000 feet of elevation gain on zero hours of sleep. Eh, a lot worse has happened before some of my races, and to be honest I felt pretty spry considering the amount of lifting and carrying I'd just done.

As we started the race, the temps were still cool but after a few minutes of running my body adjusted. I realized almost right away that my headlamp was, as in all my races, not powerful enough, and I ended up trailing a man with a searchlight on his noggin for about half of the first climb. After that I began to pull away from the group and I was alone for the next 11.5 hours.

I had forgotten how absolutely beautiful this race was. After the initial climb you are treated to a 4 mile downhill that hugs the steep mountainsides as you pound your way down. Around one of the corners I got a bit of video of the sunrise and even stopped to get a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Its these moments that make me glad I do what I do. Running on trails has offered me so many opportunities to reflect on how beautiful nature is and how lucky I am to be able to enjoy it.

Right after the 4 mile downhill you are then corralled into a section of steep downhill single track. This area is one of my favorite sections of the race due to its rolling nature and exposed trail. It was still moderately cool so the exposure allows you to take in the surroundings and also to see how the competition is stacking up. I looked to my side at the trail I'd just run and saw Maria Petzold about 200 meters back. Seeing as how this was the first 8 miles of the race I didn't really think much of it and settled back into my rhythm.

Last year I read an article about this race called "Boom!" In the article the writer, Zach Landman, used the word, Boom, to describe the manner in which you are subjected to massive uphills and downhills without any warning. Even this year I felt that way.

Right after this short section of rolling and rugged singletrack the trail juts upward and climbs for a few miles before hitting another jeep road. Once there you make your way down the jeep road to the dam. It was on this section of jeep road that the sun really started beating down on us. The temperature, once in the low 60s, became a sweltering, scorching unknown. I had no way of knowing what exactly I was dealing with out in the canyons. As I went through an unmanned aid station after the dam, I packed my water bottle with ice and grabbed a handful to rub on my carotids to keep the temperature. Seeing no gels, I took an assessment of where I was fuel-wise and found that I had 4 gels to last me about 2 hours. Not bad, but I'd be hurting if it took any longer.

The sun just kept getting hotter and hotter. I've never really experienced anything like that before, even living in Texas. I finally deduced that the rocks were now absorbing the heat from the sun and reflecting it back up toward me. This meant it was only gonna get worse as the sun got higher in the sky. On this next extremely rugged and rolling section of uphill, I ran out of water. Luckily the aid station was only about 10 minutes away. I reminded myself once I checked in to drink an extra bottle of water before leaving. Also, I found out that there were no gels. I now had 6.2 very hot and hilly miles to survive on just S! caps and water. Great.

This section is basically the same as the last, with a steep singletrack section that leads to a jeep road that goes downhill to an aid station. This turned out to be one of the harder sections for me since I had no fuel. As I made my way up the last few steps to the road, I felt my head begin to swim and my legs begin to buckle. I think now that it was both a combination of dehydration and lack of carbs. At this station I inhaled a bag of goldfish, two gels, some jelly beans, a full 20 oz ice cold lemon lime gatorade, and then proceeded to fill my bottles and stock my pack. I was only going to be running two miles to the 100km turnaround, but I wanted to be sure I'd be able to gain back some ground on what I'd done to myself earlier. Also, this race has a way of making 4 miles take forever.

I reached the turnaround without many problems and began to count the minutes between me and my closest competitor. Surprisingly only 8 minutes behind was Maria Petzold. As I passed I said "Good job" halfheartedly and only got a cold stare back. I'm still not sure if she was trying to intimidate me or she was just very focused, but I got the feeling like the day could end with her as the victor.

Reaching the aid station again, I wolfed down another pack of goldfish, another 20 oz gatorade, and a full bottle of water. After I stocked my packs and bottles I shot up the mountain, eager to gain a little breathing room between me my pursuer. I think I worked quite well because as I made it to the next aid station and met my friend Brooks, I asked him to yell when she came by him. As I ran over the mountain I never heard anything. This gave me a little bit of confidence to start running my own race again. I even stopped to douse myself with murky, lukewarm stream water. Its crazy how that sounded so enticing in the moment.

Basically I just maintained the same strategy for the rest of the race. At every aid station I would pack my shirt with ice, chug a gatorade or whatever else was available, and eat as many gels as my pack would hold between the stations. This worked especially well on the last large climb (6 miles and 2000 feet of gain). I think this is where I began to eat away at my course record from last year. In the 2009 race, it took me approximately an hour and a half to do this climb. This year it took me only an hour. I think I also gained quite a bit of a lead on the competition as well.

The next 7 miles were the only thing between me and the finish line, considering the last 2.5 miles after that are all downhill and runnable. The only problem was the fact that every single hill and canyon look the same when you're that far into a race. You are literally unable to distinguish where you are and as the hours seem to take forever its impossible not to get discouraged. I remember at one point thinking that I was on the last hill only to see the aid station tent about 2 miles away... then proceeding to scream "F*%#" as loud as I could in frustration.

As I rolled through the finish line I thought that at any moment I'd snap out of one of the many hallucinations I had that day and I'd be right back at the top of the mountain. Luckily enough this was real and I was greeted with ice packs and cold towels and most importantly, a beer. After speaking with one of the volunteers I found out that the Start/Finish area was marked at 95 degrees and the 100km turnaround on top of the mountain was 103 in the shade. I can only imagine what the exposed areas of the canyons were.

Final tally: 5 people finished the 100km. I finished 53 minutes ahead of my times last year, and Maria was 31 minutes behind me. Of the 18 others that DNFed the 100km, 15 dropped to the 50 mile. Of the combined 25 people that ran the 50 mile, 3 finished. 2 people were air-lifted out of the race. And my friend and future WS pacer won his first ultra by being the toughest SOB in the 50 mile category. Congrats Man!!!

I'd also like to congratulate and give my support to Maria Petzold, who is a phenomenal runner and someone I think will make a great impact in the sport very soon.

With this race out of the way, there is nothing between me and a great race at Western States now. I feel that this race was key in my preparation for the upcoming race and now I can look toward it confidently.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Upcoming Race

Hello all,

Sorry I've been off the blog for a bit. Good news though, I'll have a race report to post by Monday. Today I'll be flying to Santa Barbara to take part in the second annual Blue Canyon Trail Race (100km for me). Brooks Williams of Colorado Springs will also be joining me hoping to win the 50 miler, thus winning his first ultra. Its gonna be a hot day, with forecasts of sun and temps of 91 degrees. Also, this course will offer around 18,000 feet of elevation gain in the 100km race, and just over 14,000 feet for the 50 miler. For anyone who reads this blog, I strongly suggest attending this race next year. The aid stations are very well supplied, the course is challenging and beautiful, and the Race Director is one of the nicest people I've met. Check out the website and see if you're up for the challenge.

Anyway, the plan right now is to go under 11 hours. Brooks' goal is to go sub 9, and with the starting times being a few hours apart, we plan to "pace" (more like race) each other to the finish line.