Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Minimalist Footwear.

Many people seem interested in the shoes I wear, so I thought I'd write a post here so that my stock answer is in one place instead of writing the same thing over and over again. So, here goes: my running footwear history/philosophy.

I've been running in something other than conventional trainers for almost four years now. My initial interest in wearing a more basic, simple, lightweight, low-profile shoe occurred when a physical therapist prescribed rock-hard fiberglass custom orthotics and motion control shoes for me to get over some chronic hip problems I was having in my sophomore year of high school (1999). At the time, I was excited because the new inserts seemed to help immensely to keep me injury-free, but in the back of my mind was the previous years of empirical evidence that I had that suggested that a more simple mode of footwear was sufficient.

When I started running in 1995 I wore a pair of circa 1980 Nike Waffle Trainers (something like the Nike Cortez's) that I picked up in a Goodwill store for a dollar or so. I ended up putting about 3000 miles on these shoes before the sole completely separated from the upper and Shoe Goo wouldn't hold it anymore. Over the year and a half or so that I wore these shoes (including finishing my first marathon in 3:50:11 at age 12 in Okoboji, IA) I was tiny--about 4'10'' and 75-80 lbs. Yet, in later years, I could never get out of my mind the thought that I ran all of those miles injury-free in such a simple shoe; nor could I ignore all of the historical photos I saw of runners from the 1960s and 1970s racing and training in completely flat-soled shoes with little to no cushioning. I read about Frank Shorter, Jeff Galloway, and Jack Bacheler logging 170+ mile weeks in Vail, CO in preparation for the 1972 Olympic Trials and then would see pictures of them on training runs wearing basically racing flats.

However, it wasn't until early 2004 when a good friend of mine on the Colorado College XC team,
Kiran Moorty, started talking about the benefits of running in "minimalist" shoes that I started actively researching the notion and worked up enough interest to pursue the concept myself. (Notice Kiran racing barefoot in that link--he went on to finish about seven seconds out of All-American in that race. Another good friend of mine, Julian Boggs, finished 3rd at NCAA Div. III XC Nationals last year running barefoot. Boggs also paced for me in the 2006 LT100.)

Up until that spring, I'd run exclusively in motion-control or stability shoes with the same fiberglass custom orthotics. But, I was becoming pretty fed up with the clunkiness and general unwieldy nature of my footwear/orthotics and was simultaneously becoming interested in the apparent injury-prevention benefits of running in very minimal, flexible shoes. This led to doing research on the evolution of running, human physiology, primitive running tribes, etc. to the point that I thought--despite the risks--I should give it a shot myself.

Starting in March of 2004 I gradually started doing runs without my orthotics. I began with maybe 30 minutes a few times a week and over the course of 2 weeks or so built up to doing all of my running(100-120mpw at the time) without the orthotics. I was wearing the
Asics GT 2070s at the time. At the end of this period I had one 21 mile long run where I started out with the orthotics in, but my lower legs hurt so I took them out after 3 miles and my legs immediately felt better and my pace instantly dropped over 30 seconds per mile. It was one of the most amazing, epiphanal runs of my life.  At this same time, I began to consciously pay attention to my form.  I was traditionally a full-on heel-striker, but now began trying to run with a shorter, quicker, lighter stride, higher cadence, and more of a mid-foot/fore-foot strike.

From there I went to an alleged racing flat--the
Nike TC Triax (now discontinued, but it is on the beefier side...I would compare it to the present-day Nike Marathoners). The move to these was fairly quick--less than a week--and then over the course of the next month I moved down to Asics DS-Racers and then the New Balance 240s...a very light, flexible flat. The New Balances were the first shoe I cut the heel off of in order to make it equal to the forefoot height so as to increase ankle mobility in my running gait. I was fully transitioned into the New Balances by the middle of June of 2004--a full three months after I'd first started ditching my orthotics; to be sure, it's a slow process. I also did a lot of running in the Asics 15-50 XC flat during this time.

In May, I started doing some barefoot running to further strengthen my feet and aid in making the minimalist transition. Initially, this was only 10minutes or so--all on grass--tacked onto the ends of my usual training runs. I also started going barefoot as much as possible in every-day life (walking around campus, going to class, getting kicked out of a lot of stores, etc.). By the end of June I was up to 30 minute runs completely barefoot, and by August I was completely comfortable doing hour runs totally barefoot (still, all on grass/dirt with small amounts of pavement). During that summer I also did a lot of "nearly barefoot" hiking on all sorts of terrain in a pair of water socks that were basically less sophisticated versions of the Vibram FiveFingers. I summitted
Humphreys Peak in Arizona, hiked the North Bright Angel trail to Phantom Ranch and back, and hiked to Havasu Falls and back (20 miles roundtrip) in my water socks (I was living in Flagstaff, AZ that summer).

In August, I started running in
Puma H-Streets very regularly---basically for all of my running. These are absolutely beautiful minimalist shoes that are, unfortunately, discontinued. They have been updated with the Puma Saloh that I am interested in trying out but I'm not interested in all of the new synthetic overlays. The H Street was such a great shoe (I would put 1000-1500 miles on a pair--long after my foot would start poking out the side of the upper) that I never really endeavored to go for anything lower than this. I once ran to the top of Pikes Peak and back in the H Streets, but couldn't go as fast as I wanted on the way down because of the lack of protection. However, in the spring/summer of 2005 I logged several 200 mile weeks and a couple 30 and 40 milers in nothing but H Streets. Their main drawback was their lack of traction. The outsole was nothing but little nubbins that I would wear down fairly quickly. These shoes look to me to be a good update to the H Street with greater traction and durability (but, probaby a bit heavier).

So, for me, the meat of the transition (down to truly "flat" shoes and substantial barefoot running) took 3-4 months.

When I hear people say that they could never run in more minimal shoes--that it would tear their body up--I agree, because without the proper adapation period immediately starting to run in flatter, more flexible shoes for all of their running would be a horrible idea. Transitioning to these types of shoes should include a gradual enough increase in workload that the feet/legs are never unduly sore. It's a matter of astutely listening to one's body.

So, one might ask, why don't you do all of your running in the Puma H Streets or a cross-country flat (if I'm so in love with those shoes)? Well, because I've found that running on rocky trails does indeed require a bit of protection, too, if I want to be able to run as fast as I possibly can over that terrain. Up until July of 2006 I was doing all of my running either barefoot, in water socks, or in the H Streets or some XC flats. However, in the Leadville Marathon that year I bruised my forefoot while bombing down the exceedingly rocky descent in that race while wearing the Puma La Bamba. These shoes have even thinner forefoots than it looks in the picture.

I decided that if I wanted to continue running and racing the Rocky Mountain trails that I love I needed a little bit more protection. So, I went out and bought a pair of La Sportiva Slingshots--still the beefiest shoes I've run in in the past four years. Although they aren't my absolutely ideal shoe, they are definitely one of the best things out there in the trail running market that I've found. I really like their thin midsole through the midfoot and forefoot, but the heel is still too built up for me, so that's where my major modification comes in.

To lower the heel, I take a serrated kitchen knife and slice off the outsole and a lot of the midsole of the back half of the shoe. I basically start right behind the grey, hard plastic external heel counter and then cut all the way up until about the "Frixion" logo in the midfoot portion of the outsole. This way, the sole thickness is pretty much even all the way from the forefoot to the rearfoot.

The other things I do to the Slingshots is cut an inch or so off the top of the tongue and then pull all the foam padding out of the tongue; I like the fit better and it cuts weight and doesn't soak up as much water. I also remove the insoles to reduce weight and have a better feel for the trail.

With the Slingshots, I would much prefer a more "racing flat" fit and feel to them, more akin with a road shoe, but it seems almost every company is kind of averse to this. I suspect they're afraid of cramping the toebox so that people don't lose toenails or that they think the upper materials necessary for such a fit aren't durable enough. However, I wore the Slingshots in both the 2006 Leadville Trail 100 and the 2007 Rocky Raccoon 100.

The other shoe that I've been very happy with is the Inov-8 f-lite 250. This shoe best mimics the racing flat type fit that I've been looking for in a trail running shoe. I also shave a bit off the heel of these and remove the insoles. I wore these shoes quite satisfactorily in the 2007 Leadville Trail 100.

I end up wearing the Sportivas and Inov-8s for my typical morning mountain runs of 3hrs or longer and I wear a dilapidated pair of Puma H Streets for my evening runs of 1-2hrs on less gnarly trails. I am looking forward to trying out the Vibram FiveFingers as an alternative to barefoot in colder climates (I now live in Bozeman, afterall) and, hopefully, for my evening runs as a replacement to the H Streets.

What are the reasons for wanting to run in minimalist shoes? Almost all shoes (even many racing flats) have an unnecessary amount of rise from the forefoot to the rearfoot. By training in a shoe with this sort of heel lift, the Achilles tendon is constantly shortened and underworked with each step. The raised heel also limits the range of motion in the ankle upon footstrike and promotes a heelstrike instead of a more midfoot or forefoot initial footplant. 

One’s footplant while running barefoot is much different than while running with shoes. If one were to run barefoot across a stretch of asphalt, I guarantee that he or she wouldn’t run with a heelstrike for very long! Thus, a big motivating factor—for me—in wearing minimalist shoes is to encourage my body to adopt a running gait (shorter, quicker strides that land closer to the body's center of mass) that will allow my feet to take advantage of the most natural cushioning mechanism that was built into our anatomy—the resilience of the Achilles tendon, calf muscles, and ankle joint. 

Running with a fore-to-midfoot strike in minimalist shoes almost completely disallows overstriding; increases one’s agility on uneven terrain (a definite plus in trail running); strengthens all of the often overlooked supportive muscles, tendons and ligaments of the feet and lower legs; and, in the end, hopefully cultivates a more propulsive, strong, less injury-prone stride. Decent slow-motion shots of the kind of footplant and running style I'm talking about can be seen in this video clip. (For a better look, download the file here.) If one looks closely, he or she can see that the initial contact with the ground is with my outer forefoot; I then roll in, touch down with my heel, and push off (I'm not just running exclusively "on my toes").

Additionally, I am a big proponent of simplifying my life (and thus, my running), and believe that the human body was meant to run, and that simple biological evolution couldn’t have been so wrong, so why not let the foot and lower leg do what it was designed to do (
I've read many peer-reviewed articles that have concluded that the human body evolved to run) and not inhibit it with some big clunky shoe? 

Of course, basically from birth, the majority of the human population is corrupted by being placed in very “supportive” almost cast-like shoes and our feet and lower legs become very weak. I myself used to run in so-called stability shoes with hard plastic, custom orthotics, but over the past three years I’ve tried--and succeeded in--leaving those albatrosses behind. 
Because so many folks have grown up wearing shoes and the medical industry constantly pushes more and more restrictive orthotics and shoes that simply weaken the foot further, most people can’t imagine running hundreds and thousands of miles over rocky trails in such flimsy flats as I do. It’s something that needs to be worked up to gradually, but I believe that as long as the running surface is natural (no concrete, asphalt, etc.) the human foot is well-designed to handle any running stress we’re willing to impart on it (provided you give it enough adaptive time).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ring The Peak Trail thoughts.

Although I now live in Bozeman, MT, I still harbor a deep appreciation for the public lands and trails of Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region in general. This past spring there was an announcement that Colorado Springs Utilities had agreed to open portions of the Pikes Peak South Slope area as part of a new multi-use plan that would, among other things, allow the completion of the venerable Ring The Peak trail. I am a supporter of nearly all things concerning preserving open space and public lands and promoting the maintenance of current trails or the construction of new ones. I believe that abundant trails are a key part of providing people with the opportunity to connect with and become open to and aware of the power and magic of the land.

Ever since I read that article in the Gazette last spring the prospect of some day running the entire Ring The Peak trail, i.e. circumnavigating Pikes Peak on foot in one single push, has been marinating in the back of my mind. Then, this past summer there was a fever of Tour Du Mont Blanc excitement that reminded me of my interest in running around the Peak massif. In turn, I was even further excited about the thought of some day being able to direct a 100 mile race in the Pikes Peak region--call it the Pikes Peak 100.

I admittedly know nothing about directing a race, but once I have been around the circuit a few more years I would absolutely love to direct a 100 mile race around Pikes Peak that would hopefully be managed in every way that I believe constitutes a great trail race.

First, a trail race must have a spectacular setting. Pikes Peak provides a wonderful playground on which to stage such a race--there are miles and miles of wonderful trail, and the Ring The Peak circuit would offer the novelty of a Tour Du Mont Blanc-type event circumnavigating an iconic mountain.

Second, I would want to allow the best competition possible to enter the event. I would attract competition by inviting top runners and offering them complimentary entry and by providing substantial prize money (ideally, ~$5000 for the winners). Of course, now I'm talking about having significant corporate backing, but this is all hypothetical anyways.

I don't know anything about access issues: who I'd have to negotiate with (Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities, etc, etc., I imagine), what permits I would need to secure a desirable route, and on and on, but I like to think that Colorado Springs could host a great event. In my mind, the route would be something like this:

This course would start in Manitou, hop on the Ute Pass Trail/Ring The Peak Trail up to Waldo Canyon, run around Waldo Canyon clock-wise to the Williams Canyon Trail down and then up to Rampart Range Road, up RRR to Rampart Reservoir, around Rampart Reservoir, down a road to Crystola, along a frontage road to Chipita Park and then hop back on the Ring The Peak Trail there for the circumnavigation of Pikes Peak.

I have no idea if hosting a race would even be allowed in these places, but this is just an "off-the-top-of-my-head" conception. Surprisingly, only gives this route a total vertical gain of about 11,000'. That's pretty weak for a mountain 100 miler. However, even though the race would start and finish in Manitou Springs at about 6300', the majority of the course would be run at elevations between 9000' and 11,000' with a high point of about 11,300'. Looking at it that way, the Pikes Peak 100 would essentially be the Leadville 100 without Hope Pass, i.e. a pretty damn fast course. Interesting. Of course, I don't know if I would be happy with the long road section to Rampart Reservoir. Don't get me wrong, the scenery is incredible, with absolutely stunning views of Pikes Peak, but all things equal, I prefer singletrack (as do most trail runners, I assume). I've run this section of road dozens and dozens of times (especially in the winter), and it's gorgeous and dirt, but again, I think it would turn a lot of people off. I think it would be hard to come up with a decent 100 mile course near Pikes Peak without using Rampart Road, though.

Of course, I would much prefer to incorporate the Barr Trail into a Pikes Peak 100 race course somehow, but Matt C has told me that the Forest Service will likely not tolerate another race on that trail (there's already the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent, obviously, and Matt's own fantastic Barr Trail Mountain Race to Barr Camp and back).

Another issue would be when to fit the race on the Rocky Mountain 100 mile calendar. It seems like June is the best candidate because Hardrock dominates July and Leadville clearly rules out August. Anything earlier than the first couple weeks of June would risk not having the snow completely melted out, but I would hesitate to try and draw people away from the Western States 100.

So, who knows? Despite all of the logistics, this concept will likely not leave my brain any time soon...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The last couple days I decided my foot was ready to be out of the dreaded boot/immobilizer thingy, so I pranced around all day in stiff-soled mountain-biking shoes. But, by the end of yesterday, my foot was hurting again, so I decided it was time to get back in the boot. I'm really trying to not get impatient with this injury, because a vast amount of past stress fracture experience has taught me that a few extra days of rest and protection can save a lot of grief in the end. I've already lost a ton of fitness anyway, and luckily the racing schedule is very lean this time of year, so I can have the luxury of not needing to try to rush back into shape.

As usual, my latest injury has me rigorously reconsidering my weekly running schedule. When I'm hurt, I would
f'ing kill (something...) to be healthy and just go do a nice 2hr cruise in the mountains. Of course, once I am healthy, I gradually forget about my conviction to consistently run less miles and am soon logging close to 200 miles per week again.

In a moment of rare rationality today it occurred to me that I would be far more consistently mentally stable and physically sound if I lowered my mileage a touch--to a more sustainable level--that would allow me to amass week after month after year of solid training without getting hurt. So, I guess, here's the current plan. Limit my weekdays to something closer to 3-3.5
ish hours of volume per day (as opposed to the 4+, even 5hrs that were becoming regular leading up to Leadville this year), and start introducing more structured Tuesday/Thursday uptempo/hard days. This will likely be something like 5x1mile workouts on Tuesday or a flat tempo run, and a hard tempo hill climb on Thursdays. In the past I've regularly done 30ish minute hill climb tempos on Thursday, but I want to be sure to get the mile repeat turnover stuff in on Tuesdays in the future--especially looking ahead to speedster races like Rocky Raccoon and American River. So, a week might look like this:

Mon: am 2.5-3hr
pm 1hr
Tue: am 2hr 5
pm 1hr
Wed: am 2.5-3hr
pm 1hr
Thu: am 3hr 30-60min hill climb tempo (at least 500' of
pm 1hr
Fri: 1h30
Sat: 5-8hr
Sun: 4-6hr

I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff--thinking about all of the tiny details--but it's stupid because once I am healthy I almost always just revert to a more intuitive "what feels right" approach. But, this time around I'm really going to try to be disciplined. Some might think, "
geezus, that's still a ton of miles" but it's definitely less than what I've done in the past and just a half hour less here and there can really make a big difference for me when it comes to recovery and training load.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


A big reason why I decided to start this blog was because I'm at a bit of a turning point in my running--I've been resting for 6 weeks healing a stress fracture in the 2nd metatarsal of my left foot and I've also moved to Bozeman, MT for grad school. This means that I've gone from my best shape of my life immediately after the Leadville 100 to not running a step. Plus, once I start back up sometime in the next couple of weeks I'll be exploring a completely new (to me) system of trails. These are not small issues for someone whose life is as inextricably defined by running as mine admittedly currently is.

First, the reasons why this stress fracture (number 12, incidentally) occurred. This past spring I set a course record at the Collegiate Peaks 50 mile inBuena Vista, CO at the beginning of May, and then less than a week later started having problems with the lateral meniscus in my left knee. I ended up running very little for the next two months until Dr. Leahy and Dr. Matthews at Champion Health fixed me in less than a week and I started training hard again on the 4th of July. However, this only left me with 5 weeks of training (plus a taper week) leading up to the Leadville 100 on August 17th. I kicked things off with a week-long stay out in Lake Tahoe at Squaw Valley doing a lot of running with a couple of friends--the impeccable trails and change of scenery ended up being a perfect way to get back into the hard training groove.

When I got back to Colorado I immediately ran the High Mountain 50 in Leadville, CO as a training run. It was rough. I ran 17 minutes slower than last year and it was also my first time running above 10,000' since the Leadville 100 in 2006. I knew I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to improve on my 17:01:56 performance at the LT100 the year before. As a result, I put in a month of the best (and hardest) training of my life--evidence for that is in a previous post.

After Leadville I took five days really easy--nothing but a single 60-90min run per day--but then I moved to Bozeman and put in a few days in a row back at my usual level (4hrs+) and boom, stress fracture. Unfortunately, I've had to re-learn for the umpteenth time that those times in one's running when you feel most strong, most indestructible, invincible, are the times when you are probably most vulnerable to injury because the training required to get to that point is considerable.

I've been in the boot for 6 weeks now and yesterday was the first day out of it...hence the beginning of this blog. Yesterday there were just a couple of twinges as I spent the whole day in bike shoes (stiff soles) instead of the big velcro foot...overall, it seems like positive progress.

Pre-Leadville Training: Summer 2007

In the spirit of amassing all relevant info to my current running, here are the seven weeks of training leading up to Leadville. The month before this consisted of weeks of 0, 63, 32, and 29 miles (injured meniscus)...then my knee miraculously healed and I ramped it up to what is shown below. Smart? Probably not, but I was definitely in the best shape of my life at Leadville.

7/02 Mon-AM: 12 miles (1:34) Bearcreek+barefoot
7/03 Tue-AM: 15 miles (2:02) Bear Creek-Monument+barefoot
7/04 Wed-AM: 10 miles (1:20) Kokopelli Trail
7/05 Thu-PM: 15 miles (2:07) Tahoe
7/06 Fri-AM: 20 miles (2:43) Tahoe PM: 4 miles (:37) Tahoe
7/07 Sat-AM: 24 miles (3:20) Tahoe PM: 5 miles (:40) Tahoe
7/08 Sun-AM: 23 miles (3:21) Tahoe PM: 5 miles (:41) Tahoe
Total: 133 miles (18:25)

7/09 Mon-AM: 45 miles (6:45) Tahoe
7/10 Tue-AM: 25 miles (3:30) Tahoe PM: 5 miles (:42) Tahoe
7/11 Wed-AM: 15 miles (2:06) Tahoe PM: 17 miles (2:17) Tahoe
7/12 Thu-AM: 20 miles (3:02) Tahoe
7/13 Fri-AM: 11 miles (1:30) Rabbit Ears Pass, CO
7/14 Sat-AM: 14 miles (2:00) Red Rocks Section 16 Loop
7/15 Sun-AM: 31 miles (4:33) High Mountain 50K, Leadville, CO
Total: 183 miles (26:26)

7/16 Mon-AM: 23 miles (3:02) Buckhorn Mt. PM: 8 miles (1:05) Garden of the Gods
7/17 Tue-AM: 24 miles (3:20) El Diablo-Buckhorn PM: 5 miles (:41) Jack Quinn’s+barefoot
7/18 Wed-AM: 15 miles (2:02) Garden of the Gods PM: 15 miles (2:05) Mesas-CRC run+barefoot
7/19 Thu-AM: 30 miles (4:03) Jones Park-7 Bridges PM: 4 miles (:34) barefoot
7/20 Fri-AM: 10 miles (1:24) Monument+barefoot
7/21 Sat-AM: 45 miles (7:00) Garden-Pikes Peak Summit-Garden
7/22 Sun-AM: 34 miles (4:39) Tabor Boat Ramp to Fish Hatchery and back
Total: 212 miles (29:55)

7/23 Mon-AM: 16 miles (2:10) Garden of the Gods PM: 16 miles (2:17) Rampart Reservoir
7/24 Tue-AM: 27 miles (4:05) Mt Baldy summit PM: 5 miles (:42) Jack Quinn’s+barefoot
7/25 Wed-AM: 25 miles (4:07) Elk Park-PP Summit PM: 9 miles (1:13) Monument+barefoot
7/26 Thu-AM: 26 miles (3:30) El Diablo-Buckhorn PM: 5 miles (:44) Castle Rock, CO
7/27 Fri-AM: 11 miles (1:31) Monument+barefoot
7/28 Sat-AM: 51 miles (8:00) Pikes Summit-Elk Park-Garden
7/29 Sun-AM: 34 miles (6:00) Half Moon-Winfield-Twin Lakes w/ Kyle
Total: 225 miles (34:20)

Elk Park Trailhead, 12,000'. Pikes Peak in the background

7/30 Mon-AM: 26 miles (3:30) Garden-Queen’s Canyon-RRR PM: 6 miles (:54) Monument
7/31 Tue-AM: 15 miles (2:03) Monument+barefoot
8/01 Wed-AM: 26 miles (3:30) El Diablo-Buckhorn PM: 8 miles (1:05) CRC run+barefoot
8/02 Thu-AM: 27 miles (4:07) Mt. Rosa Loop PM: 6 miles (:50) Monument+barefoot
8/03 Fri-AM: 11 miles (1:32) Monument+barefoot
8/04 Sat-AM: 51 miles (7:35) Winfield to Leadville in 7:25
8/05 Sun-AM: 30 miles (5:02) Pikes Peak Summit+barefoot
Total: 206 miles (30:08)

8/06 Mon-AM: 20 miles (2:43) Palmer Park PM: 10 miles (1:21) Monument+barefoot
8/07 Tue-AM: 25 miles (4:06) Elk Park-PP Summit PM: 7 miles (1:03) Buena Vista, CO
8/08 Wed-AM: 27 miles (4:20) Hope Pass Double Crossing+ PM: 7 miles (1:00) Aspen, CO
8/09 Thu-AM: 30 miles (5:02) Triangle Pass, Aspen, CO
8/10 Fri-AM: 22 miles (3:05) Alta, UT PM: 7 miles (1:00) Treadmill Uphill Challenge at OR Show
8/11 Sat-AM: 12 miles (2:12) Alta, UT w/ Karl, Hal, Ian, Scott, and Brennan
8/12 Sun-AM: 30 miles (4:07) Garden-Intemann-Section 16 PM: 8 miles (1:06) barefoot
Total: 208 miles (31:01)

8/13 Mon-AM: 12 miles (1:38) Monument+barefoot PM: 5 miles (:42) barefoot
8/14 Tue-AM:
8 miles (1:05) Red Rocks
8/15 Wed-AM:
10 miles (1:20) Gold Camp Rd
8/16 Thu-AM:
6 miles (:52) Palmer Park
8/17 Fri-AM: 6 miles (:50) Leadville, CO
8/18 Sat-AM: Leadville 100 in 16:14:35
8/19 Sun-AM: 5 miles (:45) Turquoise Lake
Total: 152 miles (23:25)

Leadville 100 2007 Race Report

I know this is a bit late, but I'm posting it here just to have the major factors in my current running all in the same place.

Goal: In descending order: win, sub-16hr, sub-16:30, sub-17hr, finish
Results: won, 16:14:35
Earlier in the spring/summer I really didn't think the Leadville 100 was going to happen for me this year. I didn't send in my entry until the last day registration was open at the end of May because my left knee had been injured the whole month of May since the Collegiate Peaks 50 and I didn't thinkthat--even if I became healthy--there was any way I would be able to get in enough training to make Leadville worthwhile. As it turned out, my knee prevented me from training all the way until the 4th of July or so. However, once it was
finally healthy, I trained like a demon: the five weeks before I began my one week taper for the race I logged over 1000 miles and many, many, many, hours of running, including one seven day stretch right before my taper that was over 36 hours and almost 240 miles of running, much of it over 10,000'. Consequently, I came into Leadville feeling like I was in the best shape of my life and that maybe I could really bust one out this year.

The Thursday before the race it was absolutely pouring rain in Leadville, so I spent a restful night in the back of Jocelyn's car, which was good because even though it only sprinkled for five minutes or so Friday night, I ended up sleeping a max of about 30 minutes the night before the race--camped out in a tent in good ol' Ice Palace Park in Leadville.

Race morning was cold and clear. I had a headache that had started the night before--just like last year--but I didn't pay any attention to it other than to probably drink too much water. I spent most of the time before the start just sitting in the Provin' Grounds coffee shop trying to stay warm. Even with nearly 600 runners in the race, there didn't seem to be any real competition, so I went in with the plan of running the first half of the race very similar to last year--well, I planned on going maybe just 2 or 3 minutes faster in order to give
myself the possibility of a sub-16hr finish if the day ended up going well enough.

Right from the beginning Joe Kulak (I think) and Scott Mason took off down the hill and opened up a 100 yard or so gap. I ran down the Boulevard in the dark with the rest of the front group just trying to go as easy as possible. Thankfully, it felt very easy, but I really needed to go to the bathroom. When we made the turn onto the road going past Sugar Loafin' campground I finally pulled off and watered a bush, which allowed the front group of ten or so guys to put a little gap on me. However, I caught all of them and took the lead for the first time as I ran up the powerline cut to the lake while everyone else walked. I then realized that my headlamp sucked as bad as I thought it did even though I was using Kyle Skaggs' (crew member and pacer), which had seemed to be super bright at the start. Oh well, this just forced me to take it perfectly nice and easy on the trail around the lake.

Because I was in the lead, I inadvertently went off the trail a number of times before Tabor, but after Tabor the options are nonexistent and it was very nice trail running. Two other guys--Josh Meitz and I think maybe Duncan Callahan--ran right behind me all the way into Mayqueen in 1:47:30, but of course, once we got
to the aid station they all wasted a bunch of time doing something while I just ran right on through while Kyle and Jocelyn handed me a new bottle and some more gels. I dropped off the headlamp (there were no clouds to block the rising sun) and headed up to the Colorado Trail.

I had eaten two gels (one right before Tabor, and one right before Mayqueen), but had basically drank no liquids in the first stretch because it was so cold and I had to pee so bad, but also because the Powerade in my bottle tasted horrible. The adrenaline from the aid station made me run up the road pretty quickly, and I felt great on the Colorado Trail and had to verbally remind myself to slow down and take it really really easy. This I did, but my progress was further slowed by dropping trou' about 15 minutes or so after Mayqueen. The short climb up to Hagerman Pass road felt very easy and once on the road I had to continue to remind myself to slow down and really relax. Just as I was coming around the last switchback on the climb up Sugarloaf Mountain, the sun broke over the horizon so I took off my shirt anticipating an uncomfortably warm day.

The run down the Powerlines into Fish Hatchery was pretty uneventful--I just tried to take the downhill pretty quick but without trashing my quads. However, for some reason I started having some inexplicable negative thoughts. There wasn't a whole lot of "race day energy" flowing through me; I just wasn't very excited about running. Actually kind of bored, mostly. I was kind of disappointed in the lack of competition-but that had been expected-and I was sort of just uninspired by the course that I had run so much in training. Also, I think I started thinking ahead to the hours and hours of running that was still left and that's always daunting (and a very bad idea) in a 100 mile race. Whatever it was, it was kind of weird. However, right at the bottom of the powerlines there were some spectators cheering me on and that helped a lot to get me out of my mental funk (I felt completely fine physically). I felt great coming into the Fish Hatchery in 3:16:30 but was a little worried about my stomach and the fact that I wasn't drinking hardly anything. Every time I took a gel it was with reluctance-I just wasn't hungry at all for whatever reason. In training I typically take only 1 gel per hour, but here I was trying to get down 3 and at least 2 per hour. In the future, I might try taking more gels on training runs.
Bottom of the Powerlines, heading to the Fish Hatchery

I took only a bottle of water with me on the run over to Treeline (instead of Powerade), and really tried to drink it, but just didn't feel like it. I also consciously told myself to slow down and take it easy several times. I ran this section too fast last year and probably set myself up for such a crappy second half. It was nice to see Jim Kelleher out on the road on a bike.
Leaving the Fish Hatchery, mile 23.5
He asked me how I was feeling, and I replied, "Great!" because I was. At Treeline I switched back to a bottle of Powerrade from my crew and then just tried to run nice and easy. I remember thinking that the incline on the gravel Halfmoon Road seemed a lot easier than it was in training, but I was also worried that my legs were starting to feel tired too early.

When I got to Halfmoon in 4:12 I was pleased with my 55/56 minute split from Fish Hatchery but (unnecessarily) concerned that my accumulative time to Halfmoon was too slow (about 3 minutes slower than last year). It was dumb to be thinking that, but those thoughts set me up to have a pretty crappy next section of the race over to Twin Lakes. When I hopped on the Colorado Trail I just tried to run easy to the top of the major climb out of the valley, and it was easy, but it seemed to be a bit longer than I remembered. However, on the next flat and rolling section over to the South Elbert trailhead and kept on trying to keep a solid pace all while worrying about how tired my legs felt at times. It was really starting to get me down mentally.

When I got to the trailhead and started the downhill into Twin Lakes I was not in a good mood. For a while the downhill helped quite a bit to make me feel better, but because I was worried that my split was too slow I kept on trying to go just a little bit faster than what I was comfortable with (I never push downhills in training - this might be a mistake) and by time I got down into town I was grouchy as hell (but happy to see my split of 5:31:30, which meant I'd run 1:19-1:20 or so for that section - pretty much course record pace). I wasn't happy going through Twin Lakes. Instead of cheering me up all the hoopla there just pissed me off for some reason and when my crew asked me how I was feeling, I replied, "F---- tired." My left hamstring/hip was really tight and I already had that little bent-over hobble hitched step thing going on on little step-ups and hills. I just wasn't feeling it.

I DID switch to just plain water at Twin Lakes, though. I knew I needed to be drinking a lot more and I sure as hell wasn't going to try drinking anymore Powerade (I'd barely touched my bottle since Treeline), and it was actually really sunny and pretty warm out. I left Twin Lakes determined to quit worrying about time and just run nice and easy so that my legs would feel better. So I did that. The meadow was really boggy and muddy this year. There was a new shin-deep pond we had to run through and then lots of shin-deep puddles leading up to the river. The river itself was flowing pretty good but only about knee to thigh deep-the part I'd been crossing in training was about 50 yards downstream and was neck-deep on me, so this was a nice surprise.

On the bottom of the Hope Pass trail, I still wasn't feeling it. There wasn't much pep in my legs on the initial incline, so when the trail started going up in earnest I just settled into a very easy rhythm and decided I would walk if things seemed to get too hard. But, Hope Pass ended up saving me. On the flat section on the first switchback I could already feel my legs hamstrings and hips loosening up (which is weird, my hamstrings usually TIGHTEN on the uphills) and then just ran everything all the way up to the Hopeless aid station in 6:40. The trail was pretty wet and muddy, and parts of that trail are pretty steep, but I gained more and more confidence the higher I got on the mountain, especially when I saw that I'd split the climb 3 or 4 minutes faster than Matt's course record split.
Running up to Hopeless Aid Station. Treeline, 45 miles

Plus, I'd finally drained my water bottle for once and spent almost a minute refilling and drinking water at the aid station. I figured that at this point, getting rehydrated was more important than relentless forward motion. I hiked most of the rest of the way to the top of the pass because I figured I'd picked up enough time on the bottom of the climb and because I was trying to get some gels down (note: no more Vanilla Clif Shots in races-I almost gagged). I did run the flatter sections, though. I hit the top of the pass in 6:54 and then felt terrible for the first part of the downhill. My legs just weren't into it. However, I decided to not force it and pretty soon I was running downhill with a lot more ease. But, god, I hate those steep downhills at the bottom of Hope Pass.

I got to the trailhead parking lot in 7:19 and then started the run up to Winfield. This was the worst part of the race for me. It was hot and sunny out, the road was unvaryingly flat and even and the overall uphill also put a damper on things. I was going slow. The whole time I just kept telling myself that when I got to Winfield I could walk a few steps and things would be better. My legs didn't feel good and I was having a definite low point. When I got to Winfield (in 7:43) I somehow missed the chute into the aid station and ended up hopping the fence. When I swung my leg over the fence I was sure that something would cramp up, but nothing did-a good sign. Also, Kyle was rarin' to go when I got there so I didn't have a moment to even think about walking a few steps and we were on our way back down the road.

Picking up Kyle to pace me helped so much. I'd been inside my head all morning and now I could talk to someone and this alone made my legs feel a lot better. I drained a whole bottle of water just on the road back to the trail, but Kyle had two more bottles, so we were fine. We got to the parking lot in 8:04:30 and started hiking up the pass. Hard. We killed the bottom half of the pass hiking the really steep stuff and running anything that was a little bit more moderate. I didn't see another runner until 32 minutes after I'd left Winfield, so I had a pretty big lead, but we just kept at it. On this climb I also started taking electrolyte caps for the first time ever because it was hot out and I wasn't drinking Powerade anymore. In the future, I'm definitely going to go with the water and salt cap combo instead of sports drink. When we got to the creeks about half-way up Kyle re-filled the bottles in the stream, we hiked the next steep incline, and then basically ran the rest of the way to the top. There's some nice moderate trail above tree-line there and this year I was strong enough to run most of it whereas last year I hiked everything. I felt very solid on this climb-definitely hurting, but like I had good energy to make myself hurt as opposed to being just completely blown out.

We summited at 8:56 and went right down the other side. I must've been a little out of it, because I was tripping on rocks a little bit right at the top, but pretty soon I was cruising. Then, I tripped on something else and completely fell off the trail and rolled down the mountainside. I grabbed onto a little shrub that I pulled completely out of the ground trying to stop my fall, and then somehow was right back on my feet and flying down the mountain again. It was pretty crazy. Everyone at the aid station kind of gasped and cheered because I had fallen in full view of them, but it kind of helped me to get my downhill legs, we hit the station in 9:03 and pretty soon Kyle and I were cruising down the mountain in the rain just trying not to bowl anyone over.

The trail was muddy and slick as snot from all the foot traffic and falling rain and we both nearly ate it multiple times on the way down, but people were great about giving us the right-of-way on the trail. The river crossing and puddles in the meadow felt great on my legs and I kept a solid pace while Kyle ran ahead to refill bottles and get more gels. The rain felt great, too. It seemed like it had been a hot race so far so it was nice to cool off some.

We got into Twin Lakes in 9:48 and everyone was telling me I had the fastest time to Twin Lakes ever, but I knew that simply wasn't true: in 2005 Matt had come through in 9:39. Kyle grabbed a jacket for the rain, but as soon as we started the climb out of town it had stopped raining and was sunny. We hiked most of the climb on the road up to the Colorado trail. There were some flat sections we ran, but it was mostly hiking. Once we got on the trail, though, I ran basically everything. Last year I had hiked almost all the way to the South Elbert trailhead, but this year I was much stronger. Kyle kept telling me to take it easy-we still had almost 40 miles to go-and I was very pleased to actually have an "easy" gear to access. Last year it took all my effort to keep moving at all at that point.

The rest of the way over to Halfmoon was like that. We'd run everything but the steepest sections of the trail and when I was running I wasn't running nearly as fast as I could've been going-I deliberately took it easy. On the final downhill to the road we cruised and Kyle refilled our water bottles at the stream crossings.I was getting a lot of unpurified water in this race, but I hadn't been purifying my water all summer, so I was fine with it. We got to the Halfmoon aid station in 11:24 and then continued on down the road to Halfmoon. I felt good on this section and we ran a very solid pace through here, getting to Treeline in 11:46. It was hot and sunny when we got out of the trees, plus I just hate running on that asphalt road. As a result we slowed pretty significantly on this 4 mile or so section, but I still felt a lot better than last year. We got to Fish Hatchery in 12:23:30 and it was a nice surprise to see my parents there who had driven 12 hours out from Nebraska that day--this would be their first time seeing me at an ultra.

Kyle and I kept a solid pace on the road over to the bottom of Powerline and then began the long climb to the top of Sugarloaf. This is where I completely died last year, so I was curious to see what would happen this time around. We ended up hiking the steeper stuff and running all of the less steep inclines and of course the flats and downhills to get to the top of the climb in 1:01 from Fish Hatchery (I call the little road coming in from the top of the mountain the "top" of Sugarloaf). When we got to the top we started running for good, and fast. I was really happy with the way I was able to keep it going down this hill whereas last year I had to walk most of it because I was destroyed. On the Hagerman Pass road mile over to the Colorado Trail Kyle and I clocked a 7:40 and we had definitely slowed down from what we were doing on the upper stretches of Sugarloaf, so we were moving pretty good.

Once on the Colorado Trail things were even better because now my legs could benefit from the varied nature of the trail (as opposed to a flat, even road). All through here Kyle kept telling me to slow down and take it easy, but I was feeling great (as great as one can feel after running 80 plus miles, I suppose) so we kept cruising into Mayqueen in 14:11. My split there kind of surprised me-I hadn't expected to get there that fast-and I definitely started thinking about trying to run sub-2hrs for the last stretch and get under 16:10. However, I ended up playing it on the safe, somewhat complacent side and Kyle and I basically just ran under control all the way around the lake, up the Boulevard, and into the finish.

It took us 48 minutes to get over to Tabor boat ramp (14:59), and then I split a laggardly 1:15 up to the finish (last year I think I ran that last bit in 1:10). It's very easy to tell yourself at that point in the 100 miler (especially when you're leading by so much and you're going to run a pretty fast time anyways) that you don't care about the extra 5 minutes or so that you could cleave from your time with a little extra effort and that you'd rather just run it in comfortably instead of risk pushing too hard and blowing up-but, somewhat unfortunately, that's what I did. I was definitely tired and grunting and groaning with basically every step the last hour or so, but I was also definitely not going as hard as I could've or maybe should have. I definitely remember not taking the downhill off the lake as hard as I could've and then basically just going into "get it done" mode the last 45 minutes or so into town. Overall time at the bottom of the Boulevard was 15:41 and Kyle and I hiked up the rocky little hill at the bottom while I took one last gel just to make sure I made it. Again, I was definitely tired at that point, but really I think complacency and a lack of urgency made me not run as hard as I could. Either way, I was very pleased with the race overall and really enjoyed the run through town into the finish in 16:14:35 (for a 8:31 second half)-especially finishing in the daylight. Kyle and I never even took headlamps at the boat ramp.

Afterwards I was pretty darn sore and tired, but there wasn't any extreme soreness in my IT bands like last year. The next morning after another nice night on the soccer field we all drove down to the lake and went for a run---I did 45 minutes without too much problem considering last year I had a really hard time even walking. I know that I can still run this race faster, so I'm sure I'll be back next year.

Things Done Right:
Trained really, really hard in the 5 weeks of health that I had before it was time to taper. Emphasized LOTS of climbing and lots of altitude in my training.

Stuck to my plan and slowed down on the road section on the way out.

Best crew ever.

Didn't freak out when I got a sore throat the week before the race or a headache (and no sleep) the night before the race or when the headache didn't go away until Twin Lakes on the way out.

Switched to water and salt caps to stay hydrated when I couldn't stomach the Powerade.

Things Done Wrong:
Got injured back and May and stubbornly waited for it to heal itself when apparently all it needed was some manipulation from Dr. Leahy and Matthews over at Champion Health. Two months of training completely lost.

Didn't switch to water soon enough in the race. I should've known I wouldn't want to drink that stuff.

Didn't have a bright enough headlamp, but that may have been OK because it made me run nice and slow. However, whenever I take a serious shot at the course record, I need a bright light for the section over to Mayqueen.

Didn't give it my all from the top of Sugarloaf into the finish. Who knows, maybe if I'd gone harder I would've blown up and ended up hiking in the last few miles, but in the future I'll definitely be interested in at least finding out and not having to deal with some minor shoulda/woulda/coulda's. I say minor, because really, I'm very happy with my race.

Any Other Stuff:
Leadville's a great great race, but I'd love to see it take the lead in trail 100 milers and start offering some incentives for top runners to come in and keep pushing the limits there. I applaud Harry's second place finish and personal record for the course, but I REALLY shouldn't win this race by more than 3 hours. There are plenty of great ultramarathoners in this country, and with Leadville's history and tradition it could be an even more significant race on the circuit (deeper field, more media, etc. = more MONEY FOR LEADVILLE!!) if it would just offer some incentives for competition and maybe get some things on the technical side worked out -- like having a workable webcast and some very easy, simple YouTube video coverage.

Splits from the top 20 times at Leadville, courtesy of Matt Carpenter

Monday, October 8, 2007


Why does one blog? I dislike that phrase--"blog"--instead preferring the more traditional verb "write". My main motive here is primarily because a blog seems to be a nifty, adaptable, individualizable format for recording all of the running that I (typically, when not injured) do. For years and years (since April 12th, 1995, to be exact) I have kept my running log in a very standard lined-notebook format. Then, a few years ago, I joined an online training log so that all of us members of the Colorado College cross country team could follow along on one another's running--ostensibly deriving inspiration and motivation from each other's daily and weekly numbers. However, because I am prone to writing a lot and because my daily or twice-daily runs are much more than just calorie-burning endeavors for me, I found myself recounting the run but always editing my training log posts for length because I would unfailingly go off on some barely-related tangent that I'd been thinking about while running and the training log almost turned into more of a daily life journal than just a pure running log.

So, the first-order answer to "why blog?" is that it provides an arena into which I can write whatever I want, running-related or not. However, I intend to keep the contents of it primarily running-related/inspired. This blog will mostly serve as a detailed record of my running.

BUT, why not just do that in a private Word document? This is where things get prickly, but I think most people aren't being true to themselves if they don't agree at least a little bit with what I'm going to write next. There is no reason to post one's life on the internet (especially in such an interactive format as a blog) other than to feel as if you have some sort of agency as a human being. That is, that your actions--and posts--are meaningful to someone other than oneself and that they affect other humans in some way: to inflame, inspire, degrade, invoke joy, etc., etc. That is the only--yet incredibly crucial--difference between maintaining a meticulous personal Word document on one's hard drive and posting to a public blog of one's own creation. The internet allows others to see you--provides an audience--and this helps tremendously to validate one's existence.

But, why or how would someone like myself--who mostly believes that life is inherently meaningless, absurd--be swayed by such a notion? Because, I guess, I also believe in the freedom that we have to create meaning in our lives and that that is not a futile quest--in fact, it's very worthwhile--and that identifying with and relating to other like-minded (or not) humans is a key part of doing that. That's about as philosophical as I hope to get today.

Finally, as one might have noticed if he or she were to make it this far, I like to write. And, as romantically attached to the tradition of writing with a pencil and paper as I would really like to be, I'm just not. Wendell Berry and my own father notwithstanding (two people I greatly admire), I really like the speed and efficiency of writing and revising with a keyboard and simple word-processing software. My mind simply operates much quicker than my clumsy cursive-wielding fingers and wrist will allow, but with a keyboard, my hands can keep up. However, I will certainly allow that a pencil and paper is still highly appropriate in some contexts--love letters come to mind. And, in the end, despite this nascent training blog, I still plan on keeping up my pen and paper version of a running log (albeit, in a simpler, more bleak format), just as I have for the past 12 years.

Over the years I've had many failed attempts at keeping a daily journal (beyond a running log), and I hope that this format will keep me motivated to record my daily life if only for posterity and my own future enjoyment of what will soon be past events. I don't pretend to believe that anyone other than myself really cares about what I will be putting in here (well, maybe some members of the niche ultrarunning community and my immediate family and friends), but obviously I'm leaving that possibility open.

In the end, I'll write about whatever the hell I want, but this should primarily be a record of my running and thoughts pertaining to. However, it's my blog and I'll do what I want.