Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bad Lotto Week

So this week I took part in two different race lottos, Western States and Massanutten. I had no joy with either of them coming up goose-eggs. So I guess it is on to my third choice, Kettle Moraine. I'm excited to run this one, while at the same time being disappointed about the other two. No worries, it will still be a fun year. This does open the possibility of a rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon. So, I'll wait a couple weeks and see how the waiting list pans out, but it'll probably be something like Zumbro, Kettle, Voyageur, and Sawtooth next year.

Right now, though it's just comfortable base miles, and not working too hard. I've also been hitting a kettlebell gym twice a week. I figure it can't hurt and it will really help at the Birkie which is just around the corner. Starting last week, I'll be skiing once a week, too. I just went for an hour on Sunday, but I'll work that up to about three hours at a pop, just a little less than I'll spend on the course.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Superior Sawtooth 100, 2010

What a great race this was, probably the best I've ever raced and the most I've ever had to push during an event of any distance. I felt more rewarded at the end of this race the even at Western States. The Superior Sawtooth is the 100 mile granddaddy of the three fall races on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). It is extraordinarily difficult as the footing is rocks and roots for almost the entire length as well as almost continuous hills, not that large, but many many of them allowing runners to accumulate over 20,000 feet of climbing and decent. Larry Pederson directs the event and does a spectacular job and has droves of eager volunteers to help him.

Amy and I drove up to Two Harbors for the pre-race spaghetti feed and packet pickup. We enjoyed a good dinner with Dan from Ohio, Sue Donnely (going for her 10th finish), John Taylor and a few others. In true Minnesota fashion Larry had everyone stand up, introduce themselves, and tell how many Sawtooth's they had done. These are great events, no posturing, and you can be sitting right next to the guy who is going to win it and have a good conversation. This would also be my packet pickup which included a nice cloth bag with the race logo on it, a race logo tshirt and some Hammer nutrition products. We'd get our numbers in the morning, which makes it easier for the race staff to tell who is starting.

After dinner we headed up to Gooseberry Falls State Park to camp for the evening. This park was also the race start at 8 the next morning, so it would be pretty leisurely for us. We had some hot cocoa, and with no moon that night, enjoyed some fabulous stars, something I definitely miss in the city. By 9:30 we were tucked in and slumbering. I was nervous, but not like at Western, and had a decent nights sleep.

The Beginning
Getting prepped with about a half hour to go

The sunrise was phenomenal at 6:30 when we got up. I had a quick breakfast of oatmeal the got my stuff together. I wore my new Solomon compression shorts and socks along with a pair of Hokas. I for sure had the Euro look down pat. We did the quick drive to the visitors center and starting area to meet my folks and get my race number, 752 this time. We had the better part of an hour so I paced around and chatted with friends I hadn't seen in a while. Soon though, we were all herded to the starting line. Without any ceremony Larry shouted 'GO' and we were off.
Moments to go

I was feeling really good, as one should in the early miles, and ran with a number of different people. Normally I get frustrated when there is nowhere to pass on a singletrack, but I was having a good time talking to Molly and Dan and several others on our way to the first aid station at Split Rock, 10 miles farther on. Besides, it was going to be a long day, and going too slow early on is alright and fighting for position at this point would only make the late miles unbearable. So for these early miles I vowed to have fun and take it easy. I rolled into Split Rock at about 1:56 quickly refilled my water, shook hands with Mr. Don Clark, and rolled on. I make every effort to get out of aid stations quickly, it's far too easy to wallow in their comforts.

Up next was Beaver Bay, and the first crew point. So far the day had been beautiful, sunny, with a slight breeze, and awesome views of backcountry lakes and forest. I had even run with the sole Mexican, whom Susan Donnely had talked into racing, sadly he would later drop. But on we rolled, weaving over roots and rocks and crossing boardwalks. Chatting with each other while we still had the minds for it. As I worked through Beaver Bay and Silver Bay my Amy and my folks kept telling me I was going too fast, my dad the stats man had been keeping splits for me.
Rolling in for a pit stop

Somewhere in here I had a bit of a low, kind of around that point where you've been running for quite a while and are feeling the miles and where you realize just how far you've got to go. I always try to run aid station to aid station, but the overall distance is always hanging there. Six miles to go until the next aid, no problem, then only 50 miles until the finish. It's a big mental struggle. As I worked through Tettegouche I had climbed up to 7th, and was getting nervous. I could feel the push of competition on me, no longer running just against the clock, I was transitioning into running against other people. Somewhere around here I hooked up with Chris Hanson, as we were running a very similar race, he a little stronger on the ups, me on the downs. He was consistently just ahead of me and I'd catch up to him, then he'd jackrabbit away. This kept up for hours.

After Tettegouche I crossed over Sawmill Creek Dome, a place I'd rocked climbed at several times. I headed into the aid just behind Chris. We both sat, him to eat and me to switch shoes. I was feeling some hotspots so changed back into my original pair (I had changed once already). Chris left a few minutes before me and urged me out onto the trail, I said I'd be a minute, and didn't want to make it easy on him. At this point he and I had moved into fourth and fifth place and were still doing well. Soon after leaving the aid station I was passing over Section 13, another great rock climbing area. As I was moving down the trail below the cliffs a porcupine jumped out ahead of me. I clapped and shouted at it to try to get it off the trail, but it just puffed up and wadled on it's way. Nothing to do, but enjoy this encounter. It only lasted about a minute then the little guy wandered off trail and I was back to running. Chris was still somewhere out ahead of me and I only caught glimpses.

Soon enough though and Finland came up
, the out and back section and the most confusing turn on the course, but really not too bad since Don and his crew had marked it really well, which I hit 10:39 into the race. I easily hit my target of getting halfway before dark, giving me a lot of time to hit my primary goal of 30 hours for the race. Not that I could face another 19 hours out here. Time for a warm shirt and headlamps. Amy also sent me out with my raincoat. Chris was out ahead of me again, but we had both caught the third place guy (Andy had been up there, but stopped with stomach problems), and we were now running three and four. Less than a mile out of the aid station I caught Chris, he had eaten again and needed to walk to let it settle. At this point I passed him and moved into third, too far back to hunt for second, but with a lot of people behind me. Time to just move steady and not rest.
Gearing up for some night running

Running Alone
Chris never caught up to me, as I kept forging on. My pace had definitely slowed down, but as long as I kept going and didn't feel like stopping, I'd be alright. Unfortunately I don't remember a lot of the trail after this since I was tired and heads down working out the footing. This trail just never let up, hard rugged surface almost constantly, and when there was a nice smooth patch it was usually only a very short stretch. I never even put my headphones on because the trail was taking so much concentration.

Sometime around Sonju Lake, around 10 PM, it started raining, and wouldn't stop until 8AM. And it was cold. I was really happy to have gone out a little hard and have as much dry ground behind me as possible, since the rain would really slow things down. The approach to Sonju was great, up Benson Lake Road. They had placed luminaries all down the road, so I turned off my headlamp and ran up in the dark, following the little glowing bags. Amy saw me near the top and screamed 'runner!'. They had a full on tiki bar set up here and were catering to the crews, so far just mine and a couple others. But they were having a blast. I didn't spend long here as it had just started raining and I wanted to move and stay warm. Amy walked me out and sent me on my way.
Really feeling it at 2:45 AM

I never saw another runner since passing Chris until the finish, and that made me run 'scared'. I ended up being alone on the trail for 16 hours. It was incredibly trying in that cold and rain to just keep moving and especially getting out of aid stations. I did well, though, and managed to only spend 3 minutes at Sugarloaf and 1.5 at Cramer Road. Through these sections I had to run almost all the time, if I walked I got cold. It made me a little nervous, but my mind wasn't slipping so I certainly wasn't in danger, just really uncomfortable. Upon hitting Cramer, Amy asked if I wanted to change shirts, but I said no, even though I was soaked, at that moment I was warm. Big mistake, instead of spending a couple minutes changing shirts here I'd freeze my way to Temperence River and spend 16 minutes warming up.

The trail to Temperence River was flowing with water, rivers running down the trail and huge standing puddles. At this point, nothing to do but run through them. It was two hard hours getting there, but once there it was into a couple dry t-shirts and a new rain coat and sitting by Helen's fire for a few minutes. I kept asking how much of a gap I had, finding Chris had dropped way off, and Scott Meyers was now behind me, but an hour back, his wife having recently just shown up. I wasn't comfortable with any gap, so I got myself stiffly to my feet and once again Amy escorted me to the trail. She was set to run with me, until she saw the first few feet of it and said no way. I should mention, my parents where there all along, but they were pretty quiet, tending to my needs and letting Amy do all the directing.

Finishing Up
Just out of Temperence is the longest climb, 900 feet up to Carlton Peak. This starts out nice and gradual, but turns into some scrambling for the last 50 feet or so. Before some delicate downhilling on the way to Britton Peak aid station. In here the first whisps of dawn started lightening the fog. Now the fog was brutal to run in in the night, like running in a bubble and really messing with your depth perception. It was foggy before Temperence and all the way to the end. Much more tolerable in the daylight, though. When I got to Britton, I quickly changed raincoats and tossed a t-shirt and my headlamps. Some warm broth sent me on my way to Oberg.

The section to Oberg is normally supposed to be pleasant and runnable. After the rain, though, it was a chain of streams and puddles, unavoidable and ankle deep. All I really remember from this section is how bloody wet it was. It felt like forever getting to Oberg, but once there I was told I was still in third and nobody behind me. Little did they know that Nolan Ming had come back to life and was mere minutes back, but since he had no crew, my folks had no idea he was there.

The last section had a couple monster climbs in it, the first a veritable wall up Oberg, just a big straight climb. That was followed by some big downhilling, at this point really difficult and slow on my sore legs, then the climb up Moose Mountain and it's monstrous switchbacks. The aid station crew had told me that once I could see Lutsen I'd have three miles to go. The problem with that was that it was so foggy I could only see a few hundred feet, I had no idea where I was, of even what direction I was headed. I kept telling myself, count on 20 minute miles and be surprised when you get in early. In due course, I started heading down off of Moose Mountain and crossed a bridge over a raging river and passed out onto a road. Very close now. Charging down the road at what must have been a blistering 12 minute mile pace I followed the flagging until it turned down a muddy hill next to a lodge. Just down this hill I saw Amy and she started screaming, a few more yards and I came up onto the patio at the back of Caribou Lodge.
Done! 26 hours and 58 minutes

Only six people were there, my crew, Larry and his wife, and a couple of others. I had to ask if this was it, since there was no obvious finish area. Larry said, yep, this was it. 26 hours 58 minutes. Wow. I blew my 30 hour target out of the water, and ended up with one of the fastest times on the course (though winner Brian Peterson was 4.5 hours ahead of me). What an adventure, and a trial, through some beautiful country in my own backyard, absolutely horrible weather conditions, and a brutally rough trail. This race felt so good to do and get through. I had my head screwed on right almost the whole way, had a solid nutrition plan, and only made one big mistake by not changing to dry clothes when I had the chance. I held onto my third place overall and finished second in my age group. This first time I'd placed in any race I'd ever done.
Second in the open and third overall.

This is one race I'll be back for next year.

A special thanks to Vicky, Dennis, and Amy whom twice this year have nursed me through hundred mile events. It has to be hard watching someone you care about suffer, but they stuck with it and every bit of my success is shareable with them.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Up next, Sawtooth 100

It's less than a week to go until the Sawtooth 100. By this point there's nothing left to do, but keep the legs loose until the bid day. I've been feeling great since Western States, other than persistent plantar facitis in my right foot. it comes and goes though, and I rarely feel it while running, so I'm hopeful that it will be alright during the race.

I am changing a couple things this time around for my race outfit. I'll be wearing gaiters, assuming they arrive in time. I was pretty laze and just ordered them a couple of days ago from Dirty Girls, one of the more popular brands around. I'll also be trying out compression socks and shorts. All of these along with my hokas would make me fit right in on the Euro circuit, but here it might just be good for some laughs.

I'm really looking forward to running on the Superior Hiking Trail and meeting up again with a lot of friends from the local UR scene.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Western States 100, 2010 Recap

Arrival – Thursday, June 24th

Amy and I hopped on our flight Thursday morning to go from Minneapolis to Sacramento. We would meet up with my parents who were already on vacation in California, and make the team complete. We had a pretty uneventful flight and had no problem finding my folks at the airport. We jumped into their car and headed off down the highway, since we wanted to get to Squaw Valley for the crew briefing at 2:30. We took a quick lunch at In & Out then didn't stop until Squaw.

We stayed at The Village which ended up being only about 100 meters from the starting area and all the pre-race activities. After a quick checkin and dumping our bags we headed over to the briefing. This was given by John Medinger, publisher of UltraRunning. He was very informative and helpful to all the crews, and let them all know that Robinson Flats would be a difficult spot because of all the snow and the long shuttle ride. After this session was a trail briefing, but it was pretty much just a recap of what was in all the pre-race updates, so I left early.

My parents took off to go down to Tahoe to get some groceries for dinner (it turned out our room was actually a condo with a full kitchen) and Amy and I headed out for a little run. We decided to head up the opening couple miles of the course, which is all uphill. We took it slow, running and walking some, and I would go on ahead then loop back and see how she was doing. It was a pretty, cool, afternoon and it was nice to get out, but boy did we feel the altitude. I'm glad that a couple of days was enough to get used to it.

My parents had beaten us back and promptly started making a nice steak dinner for us. We had a leisurely evening and wandered around town a bit and checked out the shops and restaurants.

One day to go – Friday, June 25th

Friday was the main day of race preparation. We slept in and had a good scrambled egg breakfast to get the day going right. Most of today would be hanging low and staying off the legs and worrying about the 5AM start on Saturday.

Runner check-in started at 9 and I would be meeting fellow Minnesotan, Tony Kocanda, and his friend Troy Howard for checkin. This was the most elaborate process I've had to go through for a race. First off we had to sign a waiver and we were handed a piece of paper with our name and race number (128 for me). Then it was off through the swag line. The first thing we were handed was a Mountain Hardware backpack. We were told to open the main pocket, which was then stuffed with a bunch of other stuff. All told we ended up with:

  • Mountain Hardware backpack

  • 100.2 sticker

  • Black technical t-shirt with Western States 2010 silkscreen

  • Moeben Arm sleeves with Western States logo

  • Fleece Jacket with Western States logo

  • A mess of energy food samples

  • Two water bottles

  • lip balm

  • Montrail t-shirt

All in all, a pretty generous amount of gear. After all the swag we were all weighed and had our blood pressure taken. These numbers were written on a wristband, which also had our name and number on it, then placed on our wrists. The weight would be used throughout the race to determine how I was doing with my hydration. The blood pressure was used at the end to make sure I was doing alright. At the end of the line we had our picture taken with the piece of paper with our number on it. This would be posted on the webcast page.

Wandering around through all the vendors we bumped into our friends from Team Diablo, Lee McKinley, Hutson, and a few others. I'd see a lot of these folks on the trail, sometimes several times. Amy had cracked open her surprise for me, team t-shirts. What a treat, I had one with 'BUD' on the back and the front's all said 'Team el Futuro'. They wore these around a bit and all during the race. It sure helped me spot them at aid stations.

We stopped for some sushi on the way back to the room, then had the rest of our lunch up in the room. I pretty much hung out here the rest of the afternoon, while the others went out for a walk. We did do a little crewing practice and went over my expectations and what they needed to do for me.

That evening all eight of us from Minnesota, my team and Tony's team, had dinner together at a busy Italian restaurant. Then it was time to get our get ready for the morning and turn in for a fitful nights sleep.

It's on – Saturday, June 26th

3:20 came early. I slept pretty well for about four hours before the anxiety kicked in. A couple packets of plain oatmeal then out the door. I'd be starting out in my Hoka Hubbles. It was a chilly start, but I barely felt it as I picked up my number and timing chip and put them on. The four of us hung out near the start and watched the timer tick down. Shortly before the start all the lights on mountain came on to light our way, then the ten second countdown...and off.

A huge amount of cheering paved the first several hundred meters as all the crews lined the course. Soon though it was just the runners walking their way up to the Escarpment pass 2500' above us. The climb went well and the sun slowly rose behind us, so that when we neared the top we were presented with a great view of Squaw below us and all of Lake Tahoe in the distance. I walked with Hutson for a bit, as well as a number of other people at different times as I moved steadily upwards. Near the top on some runnable terrain I ran behind Amy Palmero-Winters for a bit, who would go on to be the first amputee finisher of Western States.

At Escarpment a man was strumming on a gong, motivating all the runners up and over the top, where we immediately were given a fine fast single track racing downhill to stretch our legs out. After a bit of running we were given about 6 miles of slushy snow, mud, and lots of running water, quickly soaking our feet. There was lots of joggling for position as those of us that were comfortable running on snow and getting our feet wet pushed for position. At one point in a long muddy stretch the gal running in front of me did a full frontal face plant into the mud. Thankfully she wasn't hurt, so it was pretty funny, for her a bit too.

Eventually the snow thinned out and we worked our way onto a double track fire road and several miles of downhill to the reservoir. This was fast and I ran a fair amount of it with some Team Diablo people, including Erik, whom I met during the training weekend. By now, people were getting quieter and just stretching the legs out, not running fast, but focused. It was still early. Along the reservoir was a beautiful rolling single track for several miles of nice steady running. With the field now stretching out there wasn't as much passing and I was able to hook up with people running the same pace as me. Finally we entered the Star Fire burn site for a mile and half of climbing in the sun to Duncan Canyon aid station. I was in the back of a chain of three as we worked together marching up the exposed burn. Soon we could hear the cheers at the aid station and as we approached our names were called out over a speaker and each one of us was cheered.

This was my first taste of the cadillac treatment of this race. As I entered the station the first in a line of volunteers approached me and asked what I needed. I passed him my bottles and he ran off to get them filled up. Grabbing a quick snack, my bottles were given back and he made sure I had everything I needed. I was good to go. Jim, aid station captain, told me how far I had to go and I noticed I was a half hour faster than expected. Sweet, but time to be careful. I got a quick sponge with cold water and took off to Robinson flat and my crew.

I ran a good chunk of this section with a guy from Italy who had finished UTMB the previous year and was running with no crew nor pacer. This was good single track for a long decent to a river with a rope strung across it. At this point I dropped him and moved on up the long hilly section alone. About four miles in I glommed onto another group moving well up the hills. We moved along steadily eventually getting back into the snow. At one point I thought I heard cheers, a little more running, then more cheers. I was almost to Robinson. Just ahead of the aid station we were checked in and our names announced across the PA. This place was crazy. Fans everywhere cheering their hearts out, and what a feeling it was rolling in here, there must have been 1000 people packed in this area.

This was also the first major medical, so I had to get weighed, coming in 2 pounds down from my starting weight and told to drink more. With their great service, while I was on the scale my bottles were filled. I grabbed a quick snack and headed out, looking for Amy and my folks. Just outside the aidstation exist they flagged me down, telling me they only got there five minutes ago. Phew. I changed socks quick, slapped some sunscreen on, loaded on goos, then headed out. I was 40 minutes up already and needed to be careful, with the next 30 miles being very difficult.

It would be mostly downhill for the next 20 miles or so and after a brief one mile climb out of Robinson I left the snow behind for good. Running through some hot exposed sections down to dusty corners, where I started being familiar with the course on down to Last Chance. This is where the fun really started, three canyons, Deadwood, el Dorado, and Volcano, back to back. After last chance I dove down into Deadwood, leaving the group I was running near and wouldn't see again. I moved steadily, but carefully down here since it was a really steep decent a trip would be ugly. Hitting the bottom I didn't stop at the stream, but started immediately up. Keeping it slow and steady, trying not to get any hotter than I was, I made it up to Devils Thumb. I took a seat here to empty my show out and had an attendant working feverishly to cool me off with sponges on the neck, under my arm pits on on my head. I figured, I was well up on my target time, so I was best off taking time at the aid stations and making sure I was in good shape instead of trying to bang out extra minutes.

After probably 5 minutes I got up and moved into the long decent into el Dorado. This was hot, but steadily runnable to the bottom and another aid station. I had to stop here again and slap some vaseline on a blister that was hurting, until I could get it fixed at Michigan Bluff, an hour away. I popped out of here and started uphill playing tag with a few guys and pushing each-other up the hill. At the top the hill kicked over and I ran in, seeing Amy at the bottom cheering and snapping photos. 55 miles in, 45 to go. I immediately asked for medical for my foot, was weighed then sat down in front of the podiatrist. This cost me 20 minutes here, but my foot was duly fixed, fresh socks and my Solomons. Amy led me up to where they were set up, and they sent me on the way for the seven miles to Foresthill. I was now only 20 minutes up on my target, having come into Michigan Bluff with 40 in the bank.

I didn't see a single runner all the way to Foresthill, just listening to my tunes and working on mving forward. There were a couple of solid climbs leading up to the bottom of Bath Road and the aid station there, run by the Auburn Running Company. I grabbed some fruit and a sponge dowsing then started walking the last mile uphill to Foresthill. Midway up, Amy came trotting down to escort me up. She kept up a good chatter as I was hot and tired and not to talkative myself. We pulled over the top and had a nice half mile run into town, where I had the aid station to myself. They had found a pacer for me, since the one I had arranged to meet me was a no show. Grabbing a snack and getting my water filled, Amy and my folks set me up with my night running kit and some goo, then off for 16 miles down to the Rucky Chucky crossing. 62 miles down, 6:20 PM.

Jean, my pacer, had run from Foresthill to the finish and was ok carrying on a one-sided dialog, since I was pretty whipped. We had a pretty good run down through Cal 1, Cal 2, and Cal 3. Though in this section I did find out the difference between a good pacer, and a not so great one. On the first steep downhill we had she dropped me on it, taking off ahead. I had to yell for her to stay close to me. Something I would have to repeat about half a dozen times. When someone is as tired as I was, it is extremely demotivating and frustrating when you pacer leaves you. In any case at aid stations she was attentive and I was doing much better than without a pacer.

Shortly before Rucky Chucky it got dark and we put the lamps on and finished the couple miles down to the river. I would get weighed here again with my weight coming back up from my low point of 161.5. I still had only peed once the whole race. The Rucky-Chucky crossing was pretty cool, flood lights all over, runners milled about. After just a minute we headed down to the boat and life jackets were put on us and we boarded. I had barely sat down and the rower started hammering across the river. I have to give it to that guy, he was 100% about getting us across as fast as possible. Hitting the other side we jumped out to find Amy waiting for us, having walked three miles just to get down here and leaving my folks up at the Green Gate station. A quick blister fix, then the march uphill. 78 miles down.

The next several miles were a fog of tired delirium, making myself run every downhill and the flats as much as possible. Jean thankfully was alert and very familiar with the trail, and calling out large rocks and roots for me. After Green Gate there was a long stretch where I was just heads down and moving as much as possible, I was starting to get passed a fair amount here, where previously I was barely passed at all. I was racing the clock, not them I reminded myself. Worry about your race Jean kept reminding me when I'd bemoan being passed. We did on long climb out of the Highway 49 crossing, which I barely remember getting to since I was asleep on my feet. So I popped a caffeine pill and was soon wide awake. Couple that with only 6 miles to go and I was really smelling that barn. I only had 4 mouthfuls of water from here to the finish since my weight was back to 165 when it should have been down.

We did a long climb out of Highway 49 then ran every step of the mile and a half decent to No Hands Bridge. This place had a big screen TV with music video's playing and Christmas lights everywhere. I grabbed a cup of broth and we walked the bridge while I drank it. Three miles to go, I could walk in a sub 24 at this point. We ran where possible, but it was almost all uphill to Robie Point, where we entered Auburn, and 1.5 miles to go. We walked the 1 ¼ mile hill following footprints spraypainted on the blacktop. Midway up a couple of guys clanged a large triangle and welcomed me to Auburn. Pushing up the hill I dumped my water since and could feel the lightness. I managed to pass a couple people climbing as fast as I could. Right when the hill kicked over to downhill I could see the entrance to the track so I kicked it up so I could get onto it for my lap to the finish.

As soon as I got on I saw Amy and my parents. I pulled Amy out to run around with me, then Jean took off ahead. What the hell? I told her she could hang with my parents and she said, no I'm running you in. I immediately thought, is she going to cross the line with me? I got her to run behind me though and I enjoyed the lap around and the cheers when they announced my name. I was ecstatic when I rounded the turn to the home stretch seeing the finish line meters ahead. Amy and Jean pealed off as I approached the finish and I had the last few meters to my self. 23 hours, 33 minutes, 46 seconds. Glorious. I had just completed the single hardest thing I'd ever done and in good form. All I could do at the end was sit down and shake my head, trying to comprehend what I'd gone through over the last day. You couldn't have beat the smile off of my face.

The next few hours would be a lot of laying down, and slowly eating as I got my appetite back. We had breakfast at the track and hung out there all day watching runners come in. Big highlights were seeing Amy Palmero-Winters come in and the surge of runners in the last hour, giving it their all to beat the 30 hour cutoff. The first person to enter the track after the horn blew was the venerable Gordy Ansleigh and the entire stadium was on its feet chanting Gordy! Gordy! Gordy! What an incredible event he created 37 years ago.

For me it was all over, but the reminiscing. There won't be another one like this.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

T-minus 10 days

Ten more days and I'll be about 12 hours into Western States. So far it's looking like the temperatures out there will be normal, which means kind of hot. It's still up in the air whether it will be a snow route or not and whether it will be a boat year or not.

I'm into the taper, which isn't as aggressive as one might think. 48 miles this week, then 22 next. No run longer than 10 miles between now and the show. I'm kind of riding a pendulum through this, at times feeling confident, others feeling pretty nervous. When it comes down to it though, I have a plan and just need to stick to it.

So, in eight days I'll get on a plane to Sacramento, hop in a car with my wife and parents and drive to Squaw. We'll get them into a crewing seminar, while I go out for one last run to loosen the legs and burn off some energy.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Western States Training Weekend

This last weekend I flew down to California with Tony Kocanda for a couple of days of running on the Western States trail. Friday morning we met up at the airport to head out to Sacramento. From there it was on to Tony's friend, Mac's, house. His place is well positioned, only about 20 minutes from Auburn and 45 minutes from Foresthill, the launching point for our runs.

We were at Mac's place fairly early, so we were able to relax while the rest of his crew showed up. Eventually they all trickled in: Dan Williams working on his 20th finish, Jeff Reifers pacing for his friend Jeff Hutson, and Troy Howard of Hardrock fame. It was a pretty casual evening and Sara made us salads and pasta for dinner. We all crashed out before 10 since we had an early wake-up call at 5:15.

Saturday everyone popped up ready for action. Ok, only Tony and I did since it was 7:15 for us. But we all got going, fueled up on oatmeal and headed on up to Foresthill. Now, this was an organized run, but the Diablo crew has a tradition of running from Robinson Flat to Rucky Chucky, about 50 miles, instead of the organized 30 mile distance. Those of us that had signed up for the organized run checked in and got our numbers. This allowed us to use the aid stations along the way. Now the trick here was that Robinson Flat was under six feet of snow, and no one could drive within four miles of it, so the official run would start near Mosquito Brook.

No go, heck no. We went to Robinson anyway. What ended up was a trudge through 11 miles of snow taking about 4 1/2 hours. There was a group ahead of us and when we caught them we merged to make a chain of about forty people. That was really good for the people at the back of the train, but for those of us that broke trail at some point we ended up with cut and chafed shins from kicking through the hard crust coating the snowfield. It was all in good fun and made for a great workout. I mean, who wants to go for a 6 hour run when you can be out there for more than 8. It was beautiful up that high and we could see for many miles at some points, to mountains covered in snow off in the distance. As the hours ticked by some of us started cramming snow in our water bottles to make sure that we stayed hydrated. And there was a general anxiety that we were going to miss the cutoff for the first aid station at Devil's thumb.

At long last the snow eventually petered out and we had solid ground to run on, at which point the group also fractured since the trail was clear and it was hard to get lost (but I still managed). Tony and Troy really kicked it into gear and took off. I managed to hang with Tony on the first downhill, but as soon as it turned uphill he just motored off. I cruised on alone for a while and actually managed to miss the turn into Deadwood Canyon. Fortunately I only went long by about a quarter mile and turned around to get back on track. This was a long decent and I had to put the brakes on since it was steep and technical. This was the only point that my Hoka's caused me grief, jamming my toes into the front of the box. Did I forget to mention the Hoka's, oh my. Best conversation piece ever on the trail.

The decent was something on the order of 1500 feet, and for those not in the know, that's vertical feet, not running distance. You pretty much hit the bottom, cross a bridge and start up the other side, no respite at all. The climb out is about the same height. I have to say it was really fun, and this was the part of the run I came for. On the climb up is where I caught the runners that did the official start. These back of the packers weren't looking good, but they were toughing it out. I'm sure it's a treat for some of these people to get on a trail they will probably never have the opportunity to race. Props for them.

At the Devil's Thumb aid station I met up with Mac and Hudson and ate a ton of food. I'd been saving my goo, so I was behind on my nutrition, but I'm pretty sure I made up for it here. After a few minutes Mac and I headed out to el Dorado Canyon and the long decent, 1800 feet to it's bottom. This wasn't as steep and I just bombed to the bottom, running fast the whole way. Crossing the bridge I started up the other side. This climb took me 48 minutes to get to the top, a pretty good pace, and one I hope I can duplicate in a few weeks. Michigan Bluff awaited us at the top, with more goodies. At this point I saw Gordy Ansleigh, the father of this race, still putting it out there some thirty years later. I spent a few minutes here fueling up, then hit the trail back to Foresthill. This was pretty uneventful, and Hutson caught up to me with about a mile left. This guy is a hoot to talk to, kind of like a 12 year old on crack. We rolled on into Forresthill and kicked back with some good food and a well needed sit.

After a while the other Jeff came in and we headed down to In and Out for a double double and shakes. These guys then dropped me off at Mac's house and they headed home. It wasn't until several hours later that Mac, Troy, Tony, and Dan showed up. Their plan for Sunday was to run the last 20 miles of the course, and I would go do the planned run from Foresthill to Ruckychucky.

I drove up to Foresthill myself on Sunday and got myself ready in the parking lot. At that point I found out I had left my iPod on all night and it was dead. Oh the humanity. I'd have to run without music and talk to people. This run started promptly at 8:30, though a lot of people had taken off early. This was predominantly single track, with short sections of road and mostly overhung with trees. It was a beautiful trail, not as much so as the previous day, but nothing to complain about. It was pretty hard to pass for the first several miles since the trail was so narrow, but eventually everyone got spread out and in their places. This was a fast run since it was downhill for 17 miles with the exception of one significant uphill. Definitely a spot where someone can make up some time if they have the legs. I took my time at the aid stations and gorged on their fare, particularly the strawberries.

After several miles of downhill the trail starts to parallel the river for several more miles. It was raging pretty well from all the runoff, I certainly hope it's tamed down a bit before we have to cross it. At one point along this section to the Ruckychucky crossing I saw my first rattlesnake. It was a safe distance off, so no exciting stories with it, but it was pretty neat to see. Eventually I wound up at the last aid station, just above where the crossing would be. I got fueled up here, then started the three mile climb to the top of the gorge and the waiting bus. It was a hot climb in the sun, but pretty uneventful.

At the top there was a cookout of hotdogs and chili, of which I pounded a couple, and they never tasted so good. Then it was time to hop on the bus with 50 other stinky runners and head back to Foresthill.

A bit over three weeks to go for the main event. It was well worth coming down for this run, not just to see the trail, but to meet a bunch of cool people. A good time had by all.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Morning Running

I'm about to head out for a long run this morning and was reflecting again on how much I enjoy the morning jaunt. It really sets up the day well. Today the sky is especially blue, the air is crisp and cool, and the birds are chirping everywhere. All this, I think, contributes to a big truth about the morning runner: they are all happy. I've don't think I've ever crossed paths with another morning runner that doesn't seem to be having a good time. Now, I'm not saying that runners at other times of day aren't having a blast, but those out in the morning sure seem to have the edge.

For myself, I'm headed down to Lebanon Hills in Eagan. This is one of my favorite metro trail systems to run on. It's a fairly large park, being 10 miles or so around the perimeter. This is a nice bonus on a long run, because you don't have to repeat the same terrain ad-nauseum. It's also the closest place with a good amount of hills (Snelling is my closest spot, but it's dead flat down there). Lebanon has a good mixture of running in the woods and some open prairie along with a few sections around the big lake central to the park.

I have a couple of big weeks coming up. Coach K broke his arm so he has nothing but time to work on some wonderfully abusive programs for those of us he's mentoring. Four weeks until I head out to California to run some of the WS trail, 8 weeks until the show.

So, it's off now, strap on the fuel belt, key up the ipod, and start moving the legs.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Continuing On

Since last weekend's Zumbro attempt I've managed to increase the intensity of my cold, and it doesn't seem to want to go anywhere fast. It's good that I have nothing on the board other than recovering. I did manage to get five days out running, but nothing over six miles until today, and all of them pretty soft.

The week started off with some nice tight quads and a sore groin, but nothing unexpected nor worrisome. As the days went by most of that disappeared and I'm starting to get some pep into the stems again.

The last two days I spent up in Duluth and ran the Chester Creek trail up in to Chester Bowl for a couple loops. It's a nice short course with tons of technical and steep hills. It'd sure be nice to live up there again for the bevy of wilderness activities just a jog away. Here in the cities you have to drive some distance to find some quiet wilderness.

69 Days until Western States. I'm nervous about it, but well motivated. I've started adding squats to the ends of all my runs to harden up the quads for the 22,000 feet of downhill we have to go through. There's not a lot around here on the edge of the great plains to get prepped for that kind of punishment. I sure hope it works.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Zumbro 100

The Zumbro 100 is a relatively new ultra in south east Minnesota in the Zumbro River bottoms. One might think that since this is the Midwest it is pretty flat, but that would be dead wrong. What we lack in long sustained climbs we more than make up for with many short climbs. That gives these races more of a 'death by a thousand cuts' character.

This was my first attempt at the 100 mile distance and while it was great fun, it didn't go all that well for me. I managed to make it through about 50 miles of the course before I checked out. The first loop went really well, probably faster than I should have gone and I clocked the 20 miles at 3:58. Overall that's not real fast, but when looking at another 80 miles it can really damage the race. On the second loop I still felt alright, but I got stuck in this negative head trip of how many more times I had to visit this section of trail again, how hot it was getting, and on and on. I ultimately knocked off this loop in a little over 4 hours, dropping some pace, but not too much.

The third loop was hard for me pretty early on. About five miles in I started feeling nauseous and light headed, something I was prepared to deal with, but not for another 20 miles. This really weighed me down and by the time I made it to the aid station around 50 miles I was pretty much done for. I sat down and had some ginger ale and tried desperately to get my head back in the game, but all for naught. My day was done.

I was given a ride back to the start by a kind woman, and in a great show of sportsmanship, when I stepped out of her truck all the volunteers cheered for me.

I think that is what will keep me in the sport, through the pain and the dnf's, the community in ultrarunning is incredible. I have not met a single person with an ego. I've talked to several elite runners and they are just like regular joes.