Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Firming up my plans…

My race plans for the rest of the year have been firming up, and I have a few new developments that I wanted to share.

First, the Greenville Track Club is trying to set the 100 x 5k relay world record, and I will be one of the 100 participants. It will be certified by Guinness and everything. It’s just 3 weeks away and should be a unique experience. Odds are I’ll be running one of the Saturday night legs, so all my Ragnar races will prove useful for something.

Second, I’ve written the check for my key Spring/Summer race… Old Dominion 100. Looks like I’ll be facing off against such stalwarts as Neal Gorman and Eric Grossman. Should be a blast.

Third, for about a year I have toyed with the idea of entering one of the top ultras such as Western States or The North Face 50 championships. I have had a fair amount of success in relatively small ultras so far, but always wondered how I would do against the best of the best. While I normally go out at a reasonable pace, just once I’d love to square off against the fastest and see what happens. I was therefore thrilled to read about a new race in my neck of the woods, the 100k Ultra Race of Champions. Intended to be somewhat of an ultramarathon championship, it caters to the elite and brings some of the best (i.e. the “one name” guys like Geoff, Scott, etc). I was accepted into the elite start today, and am really looking forward to this challenge. Bring it on! Now the only question is if I’ll be dumb enough to also race Grindstone 100 two weeks later…


Last but not least, the 77 mile Foothills Trail has caught me in its web. After only 2 runs on it, I am already planning when I will attempt to run the entire trail. Being a true nerd, my split projection spreadsheet is in-work and will be refined over the next 6 months (Cody and Paul, you know exactly what I am talking about). I’ll likely make my first attempt around Thanksgiving, hopefully with my Dad crewing. Am I ambitious enough to try to break the course record on my first try? You better believe it.

So there you go- my plans. Of course, I’ve got quite a few other races (a bunch of local 5k’s, Iron Mountain 50, and possibly another few ultras in Nov/Dec), but these are the recent developments. We’ll see how it goes.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sweet H20 50k race report

I think I should title this post, “The power of positive thinking” in honor of my psychologist father. He is always talking about positive self talk, believing in yourself, etc. Well, going into this race, I had somehow decided that I was going to win. I didn’t care if the whole Boulder Nation showed up, this race was mine. I don’t think I was being cocky, just determined. I knew my training and I just had a feeling. I told no one about this- not my trail buddy, Barry, not my wife, not even the awesome Jason and Weezy, who were kind enough to give me a ride to the start and who I just non-challantly told, “I just want to finish” before directing the conversation back to them. I was so determined that I didn’t bother memorizing the course, predicting aid station splits, or looking up past results of every registrant, things I will usually do in my anal-ness (though ultrasignup.com usually makes the latter much easier). Course record was 4:20 in 2009, and I was thinking 4:30 seemed possible (although frequent course changes make comparing times difficult, evidenced by the 5:18 winning time in 2010).

Sweet H20 50k is a 2-loop, wonderful race in the Georgia state park of the same name (well, technically it is Sweetwater Creek state park, not Sweet H20) and is one of the more competitive trail races in the southeast. I found it to be a nice mix of fast flats and hills, technical and smooth, water, foilage, and dirt.

I had a typical, 4-star warmup in the beautiful, 55-deg temps that would rise to a humid 75. At the start-line briefing, however, the RD informed us that the monster thunderstorms that dumped 2” of rain on us in the past 12 hours would result in a course change. Instead of the normal rope-assisted, 2x crossing of the now-raging creek, we would add a 1.5 mile paved section.


The raging “creek”- yup, no crossing it this year [note: I didn’t carry a camera, so all pictures courtesy of my fellow runners and their blogs- thanks, y’all]

With that briefing, the race started and I found myself in a fast-moving pack. I recognized Jay Aldous, visiting from SLC, so we chatted briefly, and I also met Jim Bickelhaupt, the previous year champ. The 6:18 first mile seemed brisk, but not overly strenuous. After 1.5 miles of pavement, we plunged onto the not-too muddy but rather-twisty singletrack. I settled into the back of the 5 person lead pack. We found water almost immediately with a shin-deep river crossing, then a knee-deep creek crossing, before the trail began following the Sweetwater Creek, occasionally plunging into its now-flooded banks. Coming from Utah with the typical long climbs to start most trail races that I usually ease into, the fairly flat trail resulted in a much faster run than normal. But, I adjusted and just focused on biding my time and relaxing. The pack got stacked up at a few of the more technical areas (long wooden stairs, old deadfall, places where the river overflowed its banks onto the trail), which was a bit annoying. I took a leak to let the pack get ahead.


The first, and easiest, water crossing

Despite what seemed a fast speed, I was surprised how quickly I caught back up, which was reassuring. The pack generally stayed together past aid 2, reaching the infamous hills together. What the course lacks in long climbs are made up for in very steep, numerous “rollers” of sometimes surprising severity (as the RD says, “The hill you just suffered up is far easier than the ones that lie ahead”)- to give you an idea, mile 10/26 was my only 10+ min mile (11:53, 12:47), and was a full 3 minutes slower than the next slowest mile. The first set of rollers follow a sewer line, and seems to stretch on in a long-line of hills. I rather enjoyed them, though, particularly when we reached the open hill named Top of The World.




Sewer line- it’s like a never-ending roller coaster. Minus the coaster part.

We reached aid 3 at mile 11 in 1:30, at which time I decided to break up the pack. I surged hard, increasing my pace 60+ sec/mile. The pack strung out, with only Dennis Bauer holding on. I saw Barry on a short out-and-back- he ran ended up running a 5:36 in his first-ever ultra despite minimal training due to injury- awesome work! We left TOTW to enter the Power Line, more hills that were now even steeper and longer than the sewer line- unrunnable up, and almost unrunnable down. Fortunately, there were only 2 or 3 of these before we reached the creek again. I will say, however, that I had been adequately warned about all these hills, and the mental preparation made them actually enjoyable and relatively short. More like hurdles rather than barriers. (Plus being used to 4000 ft climbs in the Rockies makes any of these climbs seem short... although it is a lot easier to say that now than when I was trudging up them).


The docile part of Power line

Dennis hung with me up Jack’s Hill and aid 4. The course enters a wonderfully-fast, narrow, pine-needle covered singletrack here, which we flew down before completing the first loop (2:08 for 16 miles) and being deposited on the 1.5 mile, paved re-route as we started the second lap. Feeling each other out, the pace increased even more, with a 6:15 mile 17. Interestingly, as fast as I thought we ran at the start of the race for the first 8 miles, every one of those miles was faster on lap 2! Dennis seemed relaxed and posed some serious competition.

At the start of the singletrack at mile 17.5, I stopped for a 30 second pit stop. I imagine Dennis was grateful for being spotted a lead like that. Feeling relieved, I quickly discovered the trail was now much slicker thanks to 500 wet shoes that had traversed it a few hours previous, requiring careful footing and a few falls. I ran hard to catch up, but was surprised to time Dennis a full 60 seconds ahead of me at mile 20- he was hauling! I also noted the creek had noticeably risen since lap 1, with one crossing now almost waist deep (I think we had 20 crossings at least ankle deep, so my shoes were squishy the entire race). I kept telling myself that I would still win the race, and just needed to run my race and Dennis would come back to me. After 4 miles of solitude, he rapidly reappeared at mile 24 and seemed to be hurting. When I passed him, he simple commented that he was dead, and that the fast road miles had been a bit much. I encouraged him but tried to increase the distance on the steep parts.


Even better the second time around…

Much to his credit, Dennis hung near me for a few miles, up and down sewer line. He was very stubborn, only slowing falling back. He made a wrong turn somewhere near TOTW, unfortunately, which permanently set him back. By aid 3, he was 4 minutes behind. On the out-and-back, I saw Jay and Matthew Hoffman 10 minutes back, dueling for third. Interestingly, my split to aid 3 was identical to the first lap. I hadn’t slowed down at all over that section.

The last 6 miles were appropriately painful, though I had targets as I began lapping runners. The stumbles increased as the pace decreased, losing one min/mile versus lap 1. I reflected a bit on how my goal was coming true, though too much internal reflection is difficult at this point as your legs feel as though they are trying to detach and/or eat themselves, and your body is doing its best to force you to lay down and cease the forced nuttiness. I crossed the finish line in 4:23:20. Dennis finished just 3 minutes back, and Jay claimed third in 4:32. Total distance of 32.5 miles. Not sure how much elevation- SportTracks says 5500, but Garmin Connect says 2800. Probably somewhere between.

A small crowd, including Marci and the girls, were waiting at the finish. Aspen immediately walked up to me and wanted to be held, which I obliged once I could stand. Seeing my family at the finish often causes me to tear up- finishing these races can be emotional, and having my family share it brings my two biggest loves together. Marci probably just thinks I’m a wuss. It was enjoyable to then sit by Marci and watch the finishers trickle in while eating some great post-race bbq chicken. The RD, Johnny, went out of his way to greet each finisher, gifting them a nice hat and a cold bottle of water. I won a HUGE, glass mug that puts all my other race mugs to shame- this one must weight several pounds and will be used often. Awesome. Marci humored me as I spent several hours talking with other runners, eating, and resting in typical ultra finishline manner- plus she finally was able to meet Barry (especially nice since he has lent us half his tools for Marci’s home improvement projects). Aspen seemed genuinely worried that 4th place finisher Matthew was dead, since he had laid out a mat and promptly fallen into a deep sleep. But, eventually, we headed back to the hotel for a shower and lunch.

In my whole running career, I can think of maybe 3 or 4 other times where I was so determined and set on a goal and then met it. Believe in yourself, do the appropriate work, and anything is possible. Anything.

If anyone is still reading this lengthy monologue, I have to give a final shout out the RD. This is an excellent race that I highly recommend. Great, challenging course with a wide variety of terrain, good aid stations, and some of the best course markings I’ve seen. You can tell he loves this race and puts a lot of time into it. Thanks, Johnny.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The most important time of the year

I believe I have just wrapped up the most important time of the year. My base is established- past 5 weeks averaged 81 mpw. I'll keep upping the mileage to 90-100 mpw, but I've found that a month of 80+ gets me to decent racing shape. Now, I can focus on speedwork and peaking. Thanks to a nice SC winter, I'm about 2 months ahead of where I usually am this time of the year, though I'll likely take a little time off in the heat of the summer. But it feels great to be in shape and running strong one week prior to my first big race of the year with no real niggles (other than the twisted ankle from today).

Personally, I would guess the typical runner doesn't establish a big enough base to reach their racing peak. The Runner's World-type training program just doesn't have enough mileage and has too many days off/cross-training to allow most runners to reach their true potential. Everyone is different in how many miles they can handle, but it seems lots of people try to "gimmick" their way to fast times, rather than establishing a true base. I don't think speedwork does much good until a nice base is in place. My most common advice to new runners is to just run as many miles as you can, day-in and day-out, and the rest will take care of itself.

Thoughts, anyone?