Sunday, July 25, 2010

Crow Pass Race Report

Everything leading up to this race was really easy. I didn't really think much about the race and I even slept quite well the night before. And then next thing I knew it was Saturday morning and we were off and running.

Almost right from the start it was clear that I would not be able to stay with the pace that Eric Strabel was planning to set. Last year Eric and I had had an epic battle in this race and he seemed determined to try to put me away early on in this one.

And so we climbed, and Eric pulled further and further away from me. I wasn't feeling too bad, but Eric clearly had a gear going up that I just didn't have on this day. I just kept telling myself to be patient and let the race come to me.

After the pass I started to feel a little bit better and I was noticing that the trail was in really good shape and that I was feeling really comfortable and agile on my feet. I remember thinking that I really needed to use the more technical stretches of this race to make up time on Eric because he had already showed me on the climb to the pass that he had a lot more strength than me on this day. And so I pushed hard through the rocky, muddy, rooty overgrown stretch of trail that leads from the bottom of the pass down toward the river. And then I promptly turned my ankle and had to slow down for several minutes. I had come really close to hurting it badly and even as it were I had done a bit of a tweak to it that needed several minutes to loosen up. And then of course I twisted it again. And again. Luckily none of these times were too bad and after about 10 minutes it was feeling fine again, and I was starting to feel confident on my feet again.

No sooner were things going smooth and suddenly a huge bull moose runs onto the trail in front of me and refuses to leave the trail. I wanted to just bushwhack around it but it wouldn't stay in the same spot whenever I approached it. It would jog along in front of me and then stop again further down the trail. We played this game for about a mile. Through some of this stretch I was able to run my normal pace, but most of the time I was just shuffling along timidly knowing that there was this giant beast around the corner. Finally he cleared the trail and I was back to running "normal."

I was a bit frustrated about the moose thing at the time, but was quickly able to let it go and get back to racing. There was still a lot of race to go and I had learned enough about patience at Western States that I knew that all I could do was focus on myself and just keep plugging along.

At the Eagle River crossing (mile 12) I got word that I was 3 minutes behind Eric. I was pretty energized by that. I had had the ankle "slow down", the moose "slow down", and had taken one pretty good fall that slowed me down for several seconds as well. And still, despite all this I was only 3 minutes back.

And so I pushed on with a lot more focus and determination. I started to feel good, but still I remained patient. I pushed the pace a little harder, but I still needed a bit more time to relax and get fully warmed up and ready for a hard push to the finish. Somewhere around mile 15 I had to stop to use the facilities (cost me maybe 45-60 seconds), and somewhere in this stretch I accidentally took the slower "high water" route, and to add insult to injury while I was on the high water route I ran across a cow moose with a calf camped out in the middle of the trail (found out later that Eric had also taken this slower route and had encountered the moose as well). Despite all of this though, when I got to Icicle Creek, around mile 18, I had still cut Eric's lead down to 60 seconds. I knew I was gaining on him fast at this point. I was feeling the best I had felt all day and I just kept pushing forward harder and harder.

About half way between "the perch" and echo bend (around mile 20) I caught Eric. I ran just behind him for 30+ seconds, but by that point he had really hit the wall and was just pushing along to get to the finish. It was clear that he was done racing. I passed by him and moved back into my much faster pace on to the finish.

When it was said and done I had taken another 2:30 off my course record time from last year. Eric slipped in just under 3 hours and another run at Crow Pass was in the books.

I was quite surprised that I was able to go as fast as I was this year. Especially with all the little mishaps that cost me time throughout the race. Adding it all up I suspect I lost 4 or 5 minutes of time from all of these little things. It was really satisfying to run from behind and remain patient enough all day to keep my head and my body in this one. I don't think I would have been so calm about this situation had I not had the experience I had at Western States last month.

In hindsight I think Eric ran a really smart race, he just ran out of gas a bit too early. I was really satisfied with the way I stayed calm and didn't crack under the pressure of how large of a lead he opened at the start of the race. There were definitely times though when I thought he was just running on another planet that day and I wouldn't see him again until I finished and he was already in his street clothes eating a Subway sandwich. That's what it felt like watching him run up to the pass. And that's what it felt like when I turned my ankle. And that's what it felt like when I followed that bull moose for several minutes. But through it all I just kept things in perspective, and kept moving down the trail as fast as I could at any given moment. Luckily that was just fast enough.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

2:54 And Change

Crow Pass is in the books. I was able to edge out Eric Strabel again. I came in almost 3 minutes faster than last year and lowered the course record to a bit under 2:55!

Eric ran out ahead of me all race but I caught and passed him with about 4 miles to go and finished about 5 minutes ahead of him. It was a really satisfying and shockingly relaxing run. I feel as good as I've ever felt 5 hours after this race so hopefully this will mean a really quick recovery.

I'll post a full race report sometime soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Crow Pass Number Five!

About to fall asleep early before my 5th consecutive Crow Pass race tomorrow morning.  It's been really interesting to see how much different my approach to this race has been this year compared to last year.  Not to say that I'm not taking this race seriously and not planning to push myself as hard as possible tomorrow, but last year this race was different than any I had ever run before or since.  I went into it with so much focus and determination, not unlike an ancient warrior going to battle, knowing that it might be their last battle.  I actually went into this race last year not certain if I would ever race again.  

Tomorrow though things are a lot lighter.  So much so that earlier this week I had a few different times in which I made plans for this weekend back in Juneau, forgetting completely that I'd be up here running this race.  I think a big part of my laid back mindset right now is a response to Western States.  I spent so much time focused on that race that I really think I needed to run this race low key like this.  I'm sure I'll slip instantly into serious race mode at about 7:00:01 tomorrow morning, but right now, 9 hours before the race start, I'm about as relaxed as I've ever been about an upcoming race.  

It's really nice to be like this.  It almost feels like cheating.   

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I'm Moving To Boulder...

...Not for good, but in three weeks I'll be packing up and hitting the road Southbound for at least 4 or 5 months!

I'm excited to check out a new place. I've spent some time around Boulder but not enough to really know what I'll think of it. Right now we're leaning toward finding a place to live outside of town, in the mountains to the West. Maybe Nederland. We'll see. Should be a fun place to run and live.

Moving away from Juneau will be hard, but I'm almost certain I'll be moving back here sometime after December so I'm excited for that. Autumn and early winter is pretty difficult here anyway.

Anyhow, enough about all this. Time for a run.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Connecting The Dots

We just had a 3 day stretch of really nice weather here in Juneau and this got my mind really excited once again about this 100 mile route that I want to put together in the mountains around here.

In the past 4 days I ran almost 60 miles of this potential route. Even before this week I had run all of the route that I have in mind except for the connection between Heintzleman Ridge and Blackerby Ridge. The difficult thing about this connection is that there is a massive glacier that sits between the two (seen center right in the picture below).

There are 3 basic options for getting between the two ridges: drop down and cross Lemon Creek in front of the glacier; drop down to the face of the glacier but stay on the left side of it all the way around toward Blackerby Ridge; or stay up on the ridge past Nugget Mountain and Split Thumb, keeping on ridges all the way back around the glacier and eventually over to Observation Peak (the ridgeline can be seen in the distance on the above photo)

The first option is certainly the least desirable. You need to drop way down to do this and then cross a dangerous river and then climb back up all the elevation you lost with some bushwhacking as well. More and more lately I have been thinking that the third option of staying up on the ridge all the way around would be the best choice. Thus on Friday my friend Bryan and I set out with the intention of scouting this third option. A few hours into our "run" though we decided to drop down to the edge of the glacier and attempt the middle option instead. You still need to drop a long ways to do this but from up on the ridge it looked like this would include almost no bushwhacking and that the climb back up along the edge of the glacier would be so gradual that the elevation lost really wouldn't be a big deal. When it was all said and done this proved to be true and I was really pleased with this route. It's not fast. Took us about 8.5 hours to do 20-25 miles, but it's a pretty straight forward connection and the scenery is amazing. There was one hidden lake (above photo) that we had to cross right above the outlet that poured into a raging deathtrap of a river, but the crossing about 20 feet above the beginning of the deathtrap was only up to the bottom of our shorts and really quite mellow (photo below is of Bryan crossing just above the "deathtrap"). After that we simply climbed up onto the edge of the glacier (third photo below) and then climbed gradual for about 2 hours of very simple/smooth travel and we had connected into Blackerby Ridge on top of Observation Peak.

In all this turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and beautiful runs I have ever been on. I wish the lighting had been a little better so these photos weren't quite so washed out.

I know the specific locations of this route mean nothing to most of you, but the point is that this run put me one huge step closer to piecing together one of the most rugged, challenging, and scenic 100 mile race routes in the world. I hold no illusions that this will ever be any kind of organized/legitimate event, but maybe an annual "pilgrimage" for me and one or two others dumb enough to "run" this route. That'd be sweet.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Moving On

Well, the Western States dust has mostly settled and now it's back to focusing on my day to day training and looking and moving forward in my running and in my life outside of running.

I began running again on Saturday and feel like I've made a nice smooth recovery.

I was very focused on Western States this entire spring so my racing plans for the rest of the summer have mostly been on the back burner... until now. In three weeks I'll be heading up to Anchorage to defend my title at The Crow Pass Crossing. This isn't big news outside of Alaska, but up here there are more than a few people who will be following closely to see how yet another rematch between Eric Strabel and I plays out (this will be my 5th time running this race and of the previous 4 I've won 2 and Eric has won 2). I'm really excited about this race. I'm going to head up there and give it my all, but in reality I will mostly be training right through Crow Pass so as to have myself as ready as possible for racing over in Europe in the UTMB in August. That'll be my next BIG one. A rematch with Kilian, who has won this race two years in a row; racing over 100 miles with 2,300 people; on a route that has more total climbing than any race I've ever run! Should be a fun one. Time to start doing even more climbing than usual in my training here in Juneau.