Thursday, December 10, 2009
The end of the semester has completely swamped me with homework since a week or so before Thanksgiving, but today I finally finished everything...took my Hydrology final, dashed off a final paper or two. But, neither of these two things--winter, school--have impacted my running too drastically. In fact, as has seemed to be the case for me in previous years, winter seems to have almost inspired a new bout of hard training. Of course, my relative health is usually the arbiter of such things, but it seems as if sometimes I need some sort of resistance to push back against. If it's sunny and warm everyday I almost get a little complacent.
So, to accommodate my studies, I've been running to the top of Green Mt and back every day at 6am--summiting 17 times in the last 22 days. It is dark and cold at this hour. It's been really cold lately. Yesterday morning I awoke at quarter to six, and in my bleary-eyed delerium mistook the -10F on the computer screen for a +10F. This is when I learned that the mind can play some funky tricks. As I hit the streets headed towards Flagstaff Road, I thought to myself, "Hmmm, the beard is icing up even sooner than usual today. Interesting." Or, "Boy am I glad for this neckwarmer today." However, stuck in my mental reality of +10F I never was uncomfortable at all. Only upon returning two hours later and seeing that the temperature was still only -7F with a windchill of -32F did I realize just how cold it had been.
The snow makes things beautiful, though, and that's been my major motivation lately. I usually get to the base of Flagstaff Road just as the horizon is beginning to brighten. First white, then orange, and eventually a brilliant red. With the trees and mountains all covered in snow, the first alpenglow usually hits just as the sun crests the horizon after I've started heading east on Green's West Ridge Trail. And the mountains are showered in pink.
Every day I'm claiming fresh tracks up on the backside of Green, so the usually crowded summit is gloriously lonely. After hanging out for a few minutes just generally surveying life, the real fun begins. Descending 2500' of singetrack trail knee-deep in fresh powder is a delight. Floating down Ranger and then Gregory Canyon, I think I catch a glimpse of why so many people are so obsessive about downhill skiing. Even if I do fall, it's into a pile of pillowy fluff.
Back down in town, I tear through the streets relishing the extra cushion that the snow offers the usually bone-jarring pavement. Cruising through a corner of campus, I blow by sleepy students slipping and sliding their way to class. Many gawk at me with looks of poorly-hidden horror--who the hell is this crazy creature in tights with tangled hair flying and a big chunk of ice where his face is supposed to be?
When I step in the apartment Jocelyn dashes back into the bedroom lest I do something terrifying, like kiss her with my icicles. So instead, I go to the bathroom for a towel and a shower to defrost the beard and re-enter the "real" world. But really, I'll take sunny and 50F whenever whoever decides such things is ready to dish it out.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Nevertheless, I spent most of the first month of my residence here dwelling on the fact that Green and Bear aren't Pikes. That Boulder isn't Manitou or Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is the ultimate in dramatic topography that the Rocky Mountains has to offer: 8000' of vertical--Kansas-esque plains, and then BOOM, alpine summit. And, also, for whatever reason, it seems the human spirit tends to gravitate towards the familiar (i.e. the Pikes Peak region, for me).
(The Flatirons on Green Mountain's face--much how they looked this morning.)
However, the past week has represented a turning point in how I feel in relation to my new surroundings. I've been taking some down-time since Leadville, but this week the running has began again in earnest. From the upstairs graduate student computer lab in CU's Guggenheim Hall, there is an in-your-face view of Green Mountain. I can run to its trailhead from my doorstep in less than 20 minutes, a perfect amount of warm-up. From Guggenheim, Green Mountain seems so close as to be able to reach out the window and touch it, rearrange its features.
Instead, this week I've been letting it rearrange me. I've been up Green each of the last six mornings. It has been good to finally go about learning the idiosyncrasies of the mountains most immediate to my current existence. My preferred route up Green is so rugged, so varied, so challenging, that I don't anticipate tiring of what it has to offer, and I relish the opportunity to learn every stone and perfect every foot placement on its ascent. Because, for now, Boulder is definitely home.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Now for the (much much) longer version. The final week of tapering leading up to Saturday's race went okay. After being inspired by watching Armstrong power up Sugarloaf on his mountain bike the previous weekend I had to head down to Boulder for graduate school orientation, and to ascertain a non-Roost abode for the school year. I never felt good on the short one hour jogs I did along Boulder Creek Path and finally on Wednesday ventured onto more favorable terrain with a casual jaunt up Mt. Sanitas. This seemed to put a little more pep in my legs and my final easy runs in Leadville on Thursday and Friday my legs felt great. Fresh, rested, and absolutely ready to rock.
However, these last couple days before the race some giardia-type symptoms like I'd experienced earlier in the summer (specifically, about a week before the White River 50) reared their various heads again, but I went into the weekend unconcerned with any bearing that would have on my race.
After a typically restless pre-race night in the Roost, race morning was cool and clear, perfect weather really. The nerves were there, as they'd been for a couple of days, but it was the good kind--I was just excited to finally get rolling! With about 90 seconds until the gun I stepped to the front of the amassed ~600 runners, stripped off all of my warm clothes, probably said something sarcastic to Duncan, and we were off, striding into the idyllic night.
Immediately, running down 6th Street, with the Rocky theme blaring from someone's front yard, the rest of the top runners' strategies were pretty clear, and logical: there's no real reason to run faster than Tony. Most of the run down the Boulevard, I kind of knew that we were going a touch quick. A time-check at the bottom of the road confirmed it--we were over a minute faster for the first 3.3 miles than what I had done during training. Of course, however, my legs (and I'm sure everyone else's) felt great.
On the run over to the powerline cut leading up to the lake I consciously tried to back off the pace and run as stumble-slow as possible. In what would become a theme for the first 30 miles of my race, I would alternately succeed in my quest for this subdued rhythm and lose focus and get immediately caught back up in unconsciously racing the person I was running with (mostly Timmy Parr). Any thoughts/efforts of racing in the first third of a hundred miler are for naught, and merely waste oh-so-valuable energy and muscle resiliency (a lesson I had thought I'd learned well enough--but apparently not--in the 2007 Rocky Raccoon 100).
However, a short time later I would need to make my first of many (well, at least nine) pit-stops, and being in the lead, when I pulled over into the woods at first Josh and Timmy and it seemed most of the rest of the lead group of half a dozen or so runners followed right behind me before Duncan informed them that I was indeed stopping to shit and that the trail stayed straight. A good laugh all around, but I proceeded to lose a minute and a half on the group and realize that giardia might be an issue for the day.
The rest of the way to Mayqueen, as much as I told myself to just chill out and catch back up gradually, I would periodically catch myself edging out of the stumble-slow zone in an effort to regain the front pack and eventually did catch them just as we stepped onto the asphalt for Mayqueen campground. A solid group of us all came into the station essentially together at 1:42, but--as would become an important point in the rest of my day--this was really more of a 1:40 "effort" because of my needing to stop.
Leaving Mayqueen it was still chilly and more than a little dark but I still decided to ditch the headlamp. I filed onto the Colorado trail behind Josh and one other runner with Timmy right behind me. The pace slowed fairly dramatically on this trail because it seemed that--even though he was using a light--Josh wasn't comfortable on the technical terrain. I was more than happy with the super-relaxed effort however, and once we hit Hagerman Road (just under 2:05) Timmy and myself ran side-by-side in the lead with Josh directly behind us, threatening to clip our heels. I guess we all wanted to be on the exact same section of road.
We hit the asphalt road to the Fish Hatchery side by side and ran into the aid station the same way in 3:06. I was a bit more efficient with my crew, so I headed back out a little before Tim but he soon rejoined me and we cruised down the black-top, both shirtless in anticipation of the rising sun in the cloudless sky on the shadeless road. Bottom line, we both ran way too fast through here over to Treeline/Pipeline. It wasn't a hard effort because we were both fit and rested and ready to roll but the entire time I was constantly reminding myself to slow the F down, this is 100 miles we have to run today, and whenever I would consciously slow Timmy would do the same, but always half-stepping, always wanting to go just a bit faster and before I would know it I would be right there by his side again. It was frustrating for me to get distracted by this sort of external stimulus. Either way, we hit the Pipeline turn-off (normally the "Treeline" crew access point, the Pipeline section being a course re-route around a military helicopter crash site) in 3:36 and then ran another few minutes down Pipeline where my crew handed me a full bottle and we continued on our way.
Here is where my problems really began in earnest. First, I knew that my left hamstring was a bit too tight a bit too early for my own good. For the past three years, my upper left hamstring has been my early indicator of leg muscle fatigue. In 2006, it was the first thing to show any hints of fatigue on the road up to the 30 mile Halfmoon aid station, the same thing in 2007, and this year was no different. Approaching 30 miles one would expect to feel some early, initial signs of muscular wear and tear. I've run nearly four hours already, afterall. However, this time I just had some intuitive sense that this was a touch too much, too early. So, I again continued with trying to back off the pace. Finally, I was forced to with yet another shit stop. Here, I lost over a minute taking care of business and I just resolved to let Timmy go so as to completely allow myself to run my own pace, my own race, and get good and comfortable.
Letting Timmy go was a bit of a relief mentally but also a downer mentally. Nevertheless, I just tried to forget about him and continue on. However, before the 30ish mile "Box Creek" aid station (probably more like 31 miles) I had to stop twice more with crapping issues and would thus feel myself still pushing just a bit too much because I had a mind to not wanting the gap to grow too large. Just before the Box Creek aid there was a long swooping, open curve in the road that allowed me to see Timmy just before he darted back into the woods and I was able to clock his lead at right at two minutes. Two minutes. That's nothing, especially with all my stopping. It is much easier to think logically, sitting here on the floor, not in the thick of the fight.
The Box Creek aid station was a mess for me, and a mental low point. I stopped very briefly to top off my water bottle and then proceeded to exit the aid station in the wrong direction, not once but twice, and then get lunged at by a seemingly rabid, aggressive-as-shit-teeth-bared-honing-directly-in-on-my-Achilles dog. All of this was fairly upsetting to me and did little to brighten my already fairly dark mood.
The forest service road that we were running on took a slight turn up after the aid station, but nothing really significant. All extremely runnable. I actually managed to forget about Tim and just run. My left hamstring and right hip were already barking at me pretty good and there wasn't a lot of pep in my legs period, so I spent this section headed up to the Colorado Trail just trying to get comfortable again. Two years ago I had kind of a rough time through here on the way out as well, so I took comfort in the fact that I could have kind of a bad patch this early and still recover from it just fine.
And then, on an annoying, fairly extended little uphill that crests right before the South Elbert Trailhead (which marks the beginning of true downhill all the way into Twin Lakes) I'm just bopping along, in a good rhythm and lo and behold, there's Timmy up ahead of me walking up the hill. Ah, the first good news of the whole morning, really. Of course, my spirits are instantly lifted, I'm sure I gained a little pep in my running stride, and I caught Tim right at the top of the rise and slowly pulled away on the resulting downhill.
I gapped him on the entire downhill into Twin Lakes, running with renewed energy (this downhill has always helped my legs recover and feel good going into the Hope Pass climb), and passed through the aid station in 5:12, nine minutes ahead of course record pace. While running through town I grabbed a singlet (just in case there was any weather on the pass), chugged a bottle of water, and grabbed a new full one from my crew.
I felt good on the run over to the base of Hope Pass, but I had to make another pit-stop in the meadow after the river crossing and had also nearly drained the water that I'd just gotten at Twin Lakes. It was hot down there at 9200'. Despite this, the climb up Hope went well. The north side is cool and shaded next to a creek most of the way, and I filled my bottle at a small stream crossing half-way up. I consciously kept everything super-comfortable by hiking the steepest sections but still running the vast majority of this uphill. It was a way easier effort than any other time I'd gone up it all summer. Before I knew it I was standing up there in the meadow with the llamas chugging water at the Hopeless aid station (elapsed time of 6:20). The remainder of the way to the top of the pass I mostly hiked and was excited to see running acquaintances Nick Clark and Bryan Goding taking pictures and providing general encouragement.
Running down the south side of Hope pretty much sucked. The quads seemed quite a bit unhappier than they should've been and I had to stop two more times to crap. Really? I mean, really? That was certainly getting old. Also, the steepness on the bottom half of the south side of Hope never fails to surprise me. Running up the road to Winfield, however, I was in good spirits, despite running out of water before getting there.
Heading up to Winfield is often when I begin to reflect a bit bemusedly at the absurdity of running 100 miles. Each year, that road sucks. You're not even half-way and your legs already hurt a stupid amount, you've just pounded down a quad-quivering descent and now you have to turn around, struggle back up that goddamned mountain, and run all the way back to town. But somehow, it's totally possible. Certainly not easy. It's actually crushingly difficult. It just requires one to reconsider the intensity and duration of pain that one is willing/able to endure. Even with running 150-180mpw and completing regular 50 mile long runs, it's not a place that I ever reach in day-to-day life, nor an experience that one can really sufficiently physically prepare for, I think. It simply comes down to resolve, fortitude, and stubbornness that eventually must be born anew with nearly every footstep. On a good day, running 100 miles is fucking hard. Period. On a bad day, it's borderline impossible.
I reached Winfield in 7:20. This was too fast. My crossing of Hope Pass was 2:08, about two minutes faster than I'd planned, but with all the stops for shitting, the actual pace I was running was even a few minutes faster than that. Ultimately, I think that would prove to be part of my undoing--running faster to make up for all the time I was spending with my shorts around my ankles.
At Winfield I picked up my pacer, Alex Nichols, and we immediately set to work on drinking lots and lots of water. I downed a bottle of Nuun and a bottle of ice water before we even began the climb. We also ran the road back down to the bottom of the climb a bit quicker than I should've. We hit those 2.5 miles in 18:30 when two years ago Kyle and I had covered the same stretch in 21 minutes. That's a minute per mile faster. I also noted that I had an ~8-10 minute lead on Tim.
The climb back up Hope Pass was mostly fine. It's just so hard. And it was hot this year, not a cloud in the sky. Usually it's raining/hailing going over Hope; not this time. Alex and I settled into a hard hike, running only when the trail approached flat. I had a mind to take it relatively easy on this ascent because I knew I had a big cushion on the record (15 minutes at the turnaround) and I didn't want to blow up by pushing the hill too hard. Even so, once we crested the top (climbing exactly as fast as Kyle and I had two years ago) it took a fair bit for the legs to adjust to the downhill on the other side.
We hit Hopeless in 8:40 (losing a couple of minutes to Matt's record split) and navigated our way through the masses of runners making their way up the mountain. This downhill didn't go great. Again, my quads seemed to be hurting more than they have on this section than in the past (although, I thought that maybe I just had a poor memory with it being two years since I'd run 100 miles), and I was getting some pretty good cramping in my sides, reminiscent of the Leadville Marathon earlier in the summer. Some extra S! Caps seemed to take care of most of these issues, though, and by the bottom of the hill I was in very high spirits.
It was hot running across the meadow, but I opted for the full submersion in the river crossing, and Alex and I really stepped it out on the way into Twin Lakes. Despite what I felt had been a fairly poor downhill run, we had hit that split in 42 minutes, three minutes faster than I've gone in other years, and delivering us back in Twin Lakes to a raucous crowd in 9:22. A double-crossing in 4:10 (exactly what I'd been hoping for), and a 17 minute cushion on Matt's accumulative time. I was pumped.
The climb up and out of Twin Lakes went quite well, I thought. I hiked a lot, but I felt good. My right hip and my left groin were starting to threaten to cramp fairly regularly, but it was mostly par for the course as far as running 60+ miles goes. The rest of the climb up to the South Elbert trailhead and the rolling section of Colorado Trail were equally satisfying. Alex had me running mostly everything and my body was obliging. However, we were running out of water.
It was hot. Later in the day I heard reports of 87 degrees, which was either a record high for race day or a record high for Leadville, period. All I can say is that I know that sounds weak by any non-Arctic standard, but temperatures in the 80s at 10,000' or higher is fairly unheard of. The power of the sun at those altitudes is unreal. Of course, we're not talking Western States or Badwater here, but it was way way hotter than any other day all summer in Leadville and certainly hotter than any other Leadville 100 I've run.
The re-route off the Colorado Trail down to the Box Creek aid station is a gradual downhill and most of it was completely exposed forest service road. With about ten minutes to go to the aid station I asked Alex for another bottle of water and I was surprised to learn we didn't have any more. I just couldn't believe I'd already chugged through all that, especially since Alex was being a trooper and barely drinking anything. Plus, it was to the point that my legs were so tired of running on the smooth, unvarying, road surface that I was just hoping for an uphill as an excuse to walk, but I knew there wasn’t anything like that before the aid station.
Again, it occurred to me what a survival, suffer-fest 100 milers are and although I always claim to anyone who appears interested that 100 mile races are essentially a different sport than even 50 mile races, this stretch of the race was making me truly believe that statement at the very core of my being.
We finally reached the 70 mile aid station in 10:42 and I was sure to dump a bottle of water over my head here before refilling the bottle and heading back out into the dusty sun. Things just got tougher through here on the way over to the Halfmoon road and crew access at Pipeline. It was a gradual thing. The road was flat and unchallenging but my legs just weren’t having it. I couldn’t believe how desperate I was to walk. So, fairly shockingly, I did.
Basically, I don’t walk flat terrain in races. Period. I don’t care how slow I’m shuffling along, it is a very stubborn, basic, animal instinct tenet in my brain that if the ground is flat, I’m running, however slow. And yet, I submitted for brief stretches of time through here and it did very little to revive me. Alex and I ran out of water again; I was just downing it. The quads began cramping regularly. Which sounds so simple and almost trivial written in an English sentence like that, but in the felt reality of life it was devastating on a physical, emotional, molecular level. The sun beat down. Life was more than a little desperate.
When we finally made it to the Pipeline crew access I felt terrible presenting myself to my crew in such a state. Jocelyn was so positive and supportive and cheerful and ready to keep us rolling, but I knew I looked horrible. I certainly felt horrible. I never stop during races, except to fill water bottles if I don’t have a crew doing it for me. And yet, I stopped here, for the first time ever in a 100 mile race, and actually sat down on the bumper of Jocelyn’s vehicle. I was actually a bit horrified at myself for stooping to such a level. This is a race! Come on! What the hell are you doing?!?! But it just seemed like I needed to do something to try to improve my situation.
After a minute or so, Alex and I got out of there, but all of a sudden running just wasn’t even an option. Crazy cramping in the quads reduced me to a humbling, pathetic crab walk on any sort of decline and something not much better on any incline. And then we hit the asphalt road and it was all over. Occasional attempts at running resulted in me either nearly falling down in a cramp-ridden mess or in a comedic, stilted, half-shuffle hop that Alex could walk just as fast. It was really kind of mortifying for me. I’ve never had my body betray me so completely in a biomechanical, muscular function sense. Metabollically I’ve had pretty incapacitating issues before, but never on the musculo-skeletal level that didn’t involve true injury.
So, Alex and I walked. Slowly. For a long time. I started looking over my shoulder, wondering when Timmy was going to come bounding by, but we could see almost four miles behind us and there was no one in sight. This was astounding. I was moving so slow. It was excruciating. Eventually, inexorably, we walked into the Fish Hatchery aid station at mile 76.5, reached in 12:28. (The official race splits will show my time here as 13:50 because that's when my wristband was actually cut, but that was after spending time in the aid station, hobbling another couple miles over to the bottom of Powerline, sitting on the ground for quite some time, and then getting a ride back to Fish Hatchery to get the wristband snipped. I'm not sure why they didn't record/log my initial entrance and exit of FH.) This was only four minutes slower than during my 2007 race, and was actually 17 minutes faster than my split through there in 2006. All the walking had given me plenty of time and opportunity to rehydrate and refuel, so for the first time in quite some while I felt fully alert mentally. My legs just would not function.
It took almost another hour for Jocelyn and I to walk the 1.5 miles or so over to the base of the infamous Powerline climb where, after walking down slight declines backwards, with my hands on my knees, I just sat down on the side of the road and watched as finally first Duncan and then Timmy stumped past in the tell-tale half-crippled strides of humans that have already run three marathons back-to-back-to-back.
That was actually fairly inspiring, but I was done, and I soon had a ride back to the Fish Hatchery where my wristband was snipped. Done. Did Not Finish.
I do not regret dropping out. I do not regret not waiting around for my legs to come back so that I could walk in the last 20 miles in seven or eight hours to notch a simple finish. I did not sign up for this year’s Leadville 100 to simply finish. Two nights before the race I had mentioned to my friend Brooks (who, by the way, ran a fantastic race to finish his first 100 in 23:21) that if things were going so bad that I was merely going to run, say, 18 hours, I would probably elect to not even finish and save my legs for something else. Of course, he said something along the lines of me being an asshole and wanting to punch me in the balls, and that is understandable.
But, I merely mention this to relate how all or nothing my mindset was going into this year’s race. I had nothing to prove to myself about being able to finish the Leadville 100, or the 100 mile distance in general. And really, as elitist as it sounds, I in no way was interested in merely winning the Leadville 100 this year, either. Any finish time that started with a number higher than 15 was going to be a disappointment on some level. Which is not to say that any disappointing race result would be better off as a DNF.
This year’s race, for me, though, was completely about pushing the outer limits and finding where the edge was while doing my very best to not step over that edge. In some ways, I feel like I came pretty f’ing close to riding the line successfully. It’s just such a hard thing to do, and enough little things accumulated throughout the day that I was nudged off by mile 70 and by mile 78 I had plummeted headlong into the abyss.
I will, however, be back, at some point. The Leadville 100 is just too unique of a production for me to turn away from, especially in defeat. I do know also, however, that I will run another, different, 100 mile race before I return. Also, Timmy Parr deserves a hearty congratulations and a job well done for his ability to make it to the finish line in one piece. Although I had a 40 minute lead on him at mile 70, he was obviously smart in letting this gap grow as I dropped and he persevered through a pretty rough patch of his own between mile 70 and 76 (somehow, despite moving at the pace of a drunken snail, I still managed to cover this distance four minutes faster than Tim) to recover, repass Duncan and take the win. Congratulations, Tim!
And now, for the truly cliché part of this treatise. (But, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace, the more vapid and trite the cliché, often the more real and sharp the fangs of authentic reality that lie behind it, so this is not to be taken lightly.) This result in no way diminishes the veritable suite of rich experiences I had this summer living and running in the high mountains. I cannot overstate that. I absolutely relish the opportunity to spend a summer in the town of Leadville doing what I love most, with or without an extra box of rocks to send home with my parents.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
(Heading up Hagerman Pass into an impending storm, for the final time this summer. Photo: Rob O'dea Photography)
This morning, on the heavily traveled Boulder Creek Path, a person called out to me, "Dude, you need to eat more!" I was mostly happy to get a more creative comment than the typical "Run Forrest, Run!" (my head and facial hair choices don't help much), but I'll also take it as an indelible signifier of peak fitness.
I've made it unscathed. I'm prepared; all that is left to do is rest. The last ten weeks of training have been remarkably consistent and (historically uncharacteristically) reasonable in their volume, starting with the second week of June: 106 miles (first week really back after two months of very little running due to knee issues), 154, 150, 156, 151, 183, 113 (White River 50 taper), 155, 180, 142 (half taper week). This comes out to 22-28 hours per week of running all above 10,000' and with a heavy emphasis on vertical gain. Because running up and down mountains is what I prefer.
I have done runs of 40 miles or more five times this summer, including the final 50 miles of the Leadville 100 course in 6:58 ten days ago. Two years ago I did that exact training run two weeks out from Leadville in 7:26 and ran 16:14 during the race. I am excited to see what Saturday reveals.
Last Thursday I finally made it down to Grays (14,270') and Torreys (14,267') for a go on those peaks. I was in a hurry and thus didn't have time for any sort of warm-up from the Bakerville parking lot (the road climbs steeply right from the start), and consequently ended up putting in a quite casual effort to the summit of Grays in 1:28:27.
Jeff V informed me over the weekend that that is a Fastest Known Time for an ascent from Bakerville, so I thought I would mention it mostly to just get the splits and time in a public venue for record-keeping purposes. I am pretty confident that right now I am in shape to go probably two minutes faster to the trailhead and another two or three minutes faster from the trailhead to the summit if I put forth a focused effort, so if I don't get the time to get back up there this fall with fresh legs someone else should certainly go improve upon this roughly 4500' climb.
Splits: Trailhead Bridge/Kiosk, 32:20;
Big Sign after the long flattish section, 50:40 (this first 50min of the run I was never pressing);
Big Rock Cairn before right turn onto long rocky traverse, 1:01:35;
Trail split for Grays or Torreys, 1:11:40;
Grays Summit, 1:28:27 (for a 56:07 from the trailhead; I believe Jeff has hit this fresh in 54:38).
Of course, I did the extra 500' of vertical descent and ascent for the obligatory summit of Torreys Peak as well.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Three years ago, on July 29th, I took a significant step towards becoming the runner that I am today. There were three weeks until the 100, and I'd never run further than about 32 miles at one time, ever, so I thought I would satisfy two curiosities by A) running 50 miles, and B) making that 50 miles the first half of the Leadville 100. I felt fortunate that--due to the pure out and back nature of the course--I could see every inch of the 100 mile trail by only running 50.
I remember that things went surprisingly well--for 40 miles. Then the morass of swamp and brush and rushing creek between Twin Lakes and the base of the Hope Pass trail confused me mightily (I was going only by a printed out description of the course tucked in my waistband) and I spent precious time and calories looking for the trail. Here I was attempting by far the longest run of my life and I couldn't even find the trail over this forboding pass. Finally it made itself clear, Hope humbled me considerably, and I arrived in Winfield after 7h36 both exhilerated and disheartened. I commented to a friend, directly upon finishing: "There is NO way I can turn around and get myself back to Leadville!" Of course, after a few hours reflection, sitting around a campfire, drinking a Pabst or two, my thinking changed, and two days later I sent in my entry fee. And, of course, in three weeks I was able to get myself back to Leadville.
Today, three weeks out from the race, I completed the same run, but 28 minutes faster. Maybe my favorite part of the Leadville course (except, of course, for the upper reaches of Hope Pass) is the ~20 minutes of trail that goes from the Mt. Elbert South trailhead down into the town of Twin Lakes. The singletrack is narrow and precipitous--it is carved precariously into the mountainside the entire way. Aspen groves abound. After nearly 40 miles of running, gravity lends a rejuvenating hand. And when one pops out onto the final mile or so of jeep road down into town the views across the valley to Hope Pass and Twin and Rinker Peaks are stunning. Of course, in the back of one's mind is the thought that I must now get my body up there. Somehow.
Today was no different. My run had been encouragingly quick and comfortable as I arrived in town after five hours and five minutes of running, but on a very fundamental level there was a sense that things were about to turn south. I was hungry. A gnawing, vacuous feeling existed where a satiated stomach should have been. No problem, I thought, I still have three gels left! There was a problem, though; over the previous five hours of running I had only consumed three gels and I would soon find that my body was operating on a pretty hefty deficit. After the creek crossing I hit a gel and tucked into the climb with a measure of confidence and a conviction to keep it slow and steady. Unfortunately, I wouldn't really have any other choice.
A good, honest, high altitude climb exploits any weakness, and today Hope was unflinchingly savage. It simply did not care. It did not care that I'd already run 42 miles. It did not care that my shorts pockets only hold six gels. I held things together for all of approximately ten minutes. After that I was reduced to what I perceived as the saddest of shuffles. An embarrassing shadow of my typical uphill pep and cadence.
No matter, another gel is clearly in order, despite having downed one only 25 minutes prior. This did nothing. Less than nothing. Within minutes it seemed I was even more ravenous. Another, final, gel. Three gels in forty minutes when my previous three gels had been spread over three hours.
The walls of life necessarily close in at moments like this. Everything, everything becomes about the current step. Each step has a wall constructed around it that prevents seeing forward or looking backward. There is no thought of how far one has already come or of how far one still has to go. Occassionally, wrenchingly, the mind endeavors to poke its neck up, scale the barrier that surrounds each step, peer over the top, and see out. If it is successful the results are borderline-catastrophic. Game-ending. The enormity of the task, the context of miles and elevation that bracket each step are simply too much to bear. The only way the thing can be done is to brace up those walls around each step and do one's best to not peek over.
Of course, that is much easier said than done. All the mind wants to do is think about the end, some relief, some reprieve from the dizzy suffering. But then the darkening skies open up and finally dispense their contents, of course, when I'm staggering above treeline. Hail, graupel, rain, all come pouring down and I'm too far gone to even bother with putting my singlet on. But of course, the summit finally, eventually, comes and the downhill is life-giving, and the sky brightens and now all I have to do is shuffle my way up the road to Winfield where, once again, in three weeks, I'll have to turn around and do it all over again. But with more calories. And rested legs.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
The high mountains share their craggy wares with the bipedal traveller begrudgingly. It seems their default is that of wintry chill, cutting winds, uncomfortably low temperatures. And although they let go their security blanket of frigidity for a couple glorious months each summer, the mountains are always quick to remind us who is in charge and what season really reigns at the highest elevations.
It has been cold in Leadville. I went to bed last night wearing a wool cap and a sweatshirt. There are still brilliant moments of sunshine, but when the clouds roll in they are darker than usual and when they finally roll back out they reveal an ever-so-slight dusting of fresh snow above 13,000'. Is it July? Really?
Nevertheless, the high peaks beckon, and I cannot resist. This morning, the summit of Mt. Elbert is my goal, and I can only occasionally see it as its upper reaches appear intermittenly from within the swirling clouds. Sitting on the Roost's tailgate, a few drops fall from the sky and I reach for my windshirt to tuck in my waistband. I debate about donning a singlet, and maybe even gloves, but, against my better judgement, the patches of blue in the sky convince me otherwise.
After a mile or so of warm-up on the road, I hit the trail. My legs feel good from the last few easier days that I've taken to recover from the weekend's race, and the gain in elevation comes easily. Today I am running in a cloud. I love the sensation of popping above a cloud layer that an inversion has created and right at tree-line the clouds end and the sun warms my back. The expansive view is as if from an airplane window.
In Ashland this winter, many mornings the town would be consumed by the dreaded "ice fog" that would sit in the bottom of the valley and not burn off until late morning. However, upon a mere three or four hundred feet of vertical gain, one would emerge from this chilled blanket into exceedingly warm air. Stepping onto Elbert's alpine tundra I am reminded of those southern Oregon mornings except for one key difference--here, on the mountain, the air above the clouds is even colder than further downslope. And, now out of the trees, the wind kicks up in ever increasing bursts that alternately serve as a helping hand or a frustrating hindrance, depending on the switchback.
Maybe five hundred feet below the summit I reach the fresh snow that I could see from town. Not surprisingly, this morning's conditions have thinned the troops out on the trail and I am allowed to make my final push to the summit without an incredulous audience. My cadence matches the beat of the chorus of a raucous song by The Dodos stuck in my head, and soon I am alone on the summit, hunkered down behind a crudely-constructed rock wall, desperately warming my fingers in my armpits.
Despite the wind and cold I have made the ascent four minutes faster than a month ago. On the way down I am soon enveloped in the clouds again and during the last few minutes on the road back to the Roost a light rain begins to fall. Even if this week is representative of only a freak weather pattern, it nevertheless serves as a reminder to get to as many summits as possible before the real winter elements make their inevitable return.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I came into the taper with about six weeks of solid training after finally kicking a case of patellar tendonitis in early June. However, the final week before the race I was dealing with a couple potentially troubling issues: a bout of something that seemed to be very much like giardia, and a mildly inflamed/swollen peroneal tendon in my right ankle. Fortunately, both of these issues cleared up mid-week while attending the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City where Hal and I sweated it out in the Uphill Challenge. Nothing like throwing a little tempo run into the taper.
After catching a ride up to Crystal Mountain with Jeff Browning, Hal, and Carly, I had a great night's sleep at the race cabin. I usually sleep fitfully the night before a race, but this time I conked out and didn't awake until ~5am when Jeff started rustling around in preparation for the day. I usually just lie there, waiting for the alarm clock to sound, but this time I felt like sleeping in. I was a little worried that this signified a certain lack of nervous energy, not to mention inconsistent sleep all week, but I was mostly just happy to have actually gotten a good night's rest.
I didn't warm up very much for the race--no more than a mile of jogging--even though I anticipated a fairly quick start; my legs just didn't feel like they needed it, probably because of the judicious taper I'd employed most of the week.
After waiting for Scott to finally toe the line, we were off. Greg and Lon shot right to the front while I was content to hang a few dozen yards back chatting amiably with Scott as we strided down the initial gravel road. Kami Semick soon ran up next to us and admitted she felt stupid running in front of us, but I was more than happy with the fairly quick pace we were hitting.
(Chatting with Scott out of the gate.)
We were definitely running quickly through this section but it felt extremely comfortable and I could tell I was likely going to have one of those days where everything just flows. The tread was technical enough to keep it interesting but the pace was discernibly quicker than typical training pace. It was fun to be racing again.
Greg stopped momentarily at the station, so Scott assumed the lead and I followed closely behind. Soon, the trail started climbing up in impeccably graded switchbacks. This trail was gorgeous, as would become the norm for the trails all day. After a few switchbacks, and a particularly steep section where Scott broke into a quick hike, I stepped past him into the lead and held it for the rest of the day.
I quickly opened a bit of a gap as the trail climbed pretty steeply through here and then hiked quickly up a short, steep flight of stairs. After a few more switchbacks I could see Mike Wardian gaining on me, but I just maintained my comfortable pace and certainly didn't worry about making any sort of meaningful break less than an hour into the race.
The night before the race Uli had approached me in the race cabin with a sticky note that outlined his splits from his completely unparalleled (except by himself) 6:32:43 course record run in 2004. Previous to that, Nate McDowell had raced a 6:50:39 then-CR and Mike had run a 6:52:50 just last year. These were the closest times to Uli's--a sobering 20 minutes back. As such--having never run on the course--I was pretty reluctant to even consider approaching Uli's times. Sub-6:40 had a nice ring to it if for no other reason than that it represented 8 minute miles, but shooting for a sub-6:50 time seemed much more realistic. Nevertheless, I had committed Uli's splits to memory so as to have an irrefutable definition of "fast" for the various checkpoints.
In addition to the aid station splits, Uli had mentioned to me two other intermediate creek-crossing splits on the initial climb, which I vaguely remembered the sticky note saying he had reached in roughly 49min and 1:14. I hit this first creek crossing in 48:55 after which the grade of the trail mellowed considerably and Mike caught up to me. I let him know that he was more than welcome to go past me if he pleased, and he responded by saying that I was more than welcome to lead, until the end, of course. Something about that comment rankled me mildly, but I just concentrated on running comfortably and evenly up the hill.
The trail briefly broke out of the thick forest to pass above some cliff bands, which offered expansive views of the White River valley below, but we were just as quickly back at it in the forest and Mike and I crossed Uli's second creek together in 1:12:20 or so. I was a touch apprehensive at going faster than Uli through these early miles, but everything felt easy so I just concentrated on keeping it that way, even with Mike quite literally breathing down my neck.
After a couple more miles of gorgeous, sometimes technical, singletrack Mike and I arrived together at the Ranger Creek aid station (11.7 miles) just under 1:39. At this point we'd already climbed over 2500'. I quickly refilled my water bottle and exited at 1:39. Mike, however, must've taken a few moments longer because leaving the station I was running by myself and it was that way all the way to the Corral Pass turnaround at mile 16.9.
This section of out and back trail was incredible. The views of Mt. Rainer were impossibly huge. The singletrack was buttery smooth. On this section I just tried to not get too carried away and run too fast; I was barely 1/3 of the way finished afterall. Mike caught me just as we came into the Corral Pass aid station turnaround. I again made quick work of filling my bottle and grabbing a couple gels and left the station at 1:22:50. It was the last I would see of Mike all day. I was also surprised to see that my accumulative split here was only about 30 seconds slower than Uli's 2004 run.
I rolled back down into the Ranger Creek aid (22.1 miles) feeling good, though, mostly because I couldn't see Mike behind me on any of the many switchbacks. I stopped only long enough to refill my bottle and was out of there at 3:00 flat, less than 1 minute behind the ghost of Uli. It was also a mental boost to see March--a good friend of mine from college cross-country--out on the trail here getting some quality time in the mountains.
My legs relished the steep drop from the Ranger Creek aid station. On this ~5 mile, 2500' descent back down to the White River I felt great. The trail could not have been more perfect and I felt effortless pouring down the trail. I took this chance to drink a lot of water and try to get ahead a little on calories and salt, too. I'd been dreading hitting the bottom of this descent and having my legs feel dead on the flat terrain, but that wasn't the case.
Instead, they readjusted quickly and I came into the 27 mile Buck Creek aid in 3:34:30 or so feeling appropriately fatigued but ready for plenty more. I left the station right around 3:35--still about a minute off of Uli's pace--and was actually really looking forward to the Sun Top climb so as to give my quads a break.
I got a high five from Scott McCoubrey, turned back onto singletrack, and started the climb. It went really well. Many people had told me it was pretty steep, but I found the grade quite runnable, and fast. Whenever there was a 20 or 30 yard steeper-than-normal pitch, it seemed it was always immediately followed by a decent flatter pitch that allowed recovery. Additionally, a nice layer of clouds had rolled in to give me a little extra cover in the clear-cut zone, so my one-bottle gamble paid off.
This being the second/last big climb of the race, I opened it up a little and settled into a cadence that was ambitious yet totally doable; seeing as I never had any idea what was lying in wait for me, I didn't want to get in over my head. However, this was the one section of the course that I figured I might be able to match or even exceed Uli's course record splits. I turned out to be right as I was soon running into the Fawn Ridge (31.7 miles) aid in 4:15:30ish and leaving right at 4:16. I was now evenly matched with Uli.
It was here that I began to think that I might have a shot at getting the record. I had essentially been hitting his splits the entire way and had somehow managed to even gain back the minute or so that I'd been in the hole. The second half of the climb went equally well. Before I knew it I was descending down to the Sun Top road and then it was just another five or six minutes before I topped out to the crowd at the summit of Sun Top (37 miles).
I flew down the road. Scott had informed me that I'd only had a 3 minute lead on Mike at Buck Creek and the last thing I wanted was a 2:21 marathoner flying down the road after me. With a 2:42 marathon PR, I don't have the greatest confidence in my legspeed. As a result, I probably over-did it a bit on the downhill. I knew that Uli had covered it in 39:40 or so, and I figured I would have to be all-out to equal that, so I went pretty much all-out.
The final mile or so coming into Skookum Flats the road levels out a bit and I felt really slow through here as my legs readjusted to the flatter terrain. I hit the aid at 5:42:high, filled my bottle as quickly as possible, and got out of there at 5:43 flat with two gels left in my pocket. I knew I was three minutes under Uli's split, but I also felt it was going to be tough to equal Uli's 46ish minute split into the finish for the final 6.6 miles.
I was right. The last 45 minutes of running was pretty tough. I'd really cranked the road--averaging 5:45 miles--and now I was paying for it. Gradually the legs came around and I felt like I wasn't crawling anymore but I was soon out of gels and still hungry. With maybe 15 minutes left to run there were a couple short downhills that got the legs moving again, but it was too little too late and there was no chance for me to break 6:30, like I'd thought I might be able to going into the final leg of the race. It also would've helped to have done a short pre-race out and back on the final couple miles of the course so as to know when I could truly start ramping up the final effort into the finish.
Soon enough, though, I was rounding the final corner into the finish and I when I could see the official finish clock turning over to 6:32 with only a few dozen yards remaining I knew I would finish under Uli's standard.
Mike did a good job of hanging on and actually improved his time from last year by a minute or so to finish just under 6:52. Greg Crowther backed up his fast start by rounding out the top three in 7:02.
Here's a video of the finish:
Everything I'd heard about the organization and execution of Scott McCoubrey's race proved to be true. The course was impeccably marked and the finish line food and crowd was excellent. White River is definitely a race I can see myself returning to in the future. It's obvious why it's such a classic event on the ultra racing circuit.