Monday, March 31, 2008

Never Too Soon To Think About Next Winter

I know where I'll be next February 22nd. It's still almost 11 months away but I find myself thinking about this on a quite regular basis. To say that this race has struck a nerve with me would be a significant understatement.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Right Where I Want To Be

A great day of training today to cap off a great week of training. I'm finally coming around to being in good shape on the bike, after 500 miles in the last 23 days. Rode almost 70 miles yesterday and felt stronger at the end than the start. I've been slightly tweaking my stem, grips, seat, etc. and finally found the setup that my body feels the most comfortable with on my Karate Monkey. Now, with about 700 miles on this bike I finally feel at home on it... and that's a good feeling. Tried out some aero bars on it today. I'm pretty sure they will stay on there. It feels very nice to have another position for my body to be in.

We've had perfect spring weather here for 3 days running now. I've been outside a lot this week. Put in the 70 miles yesterday and today I skied almost 12 miles, ran 7 miles, and biked almost 20 miles... another 4 hours outside. Tomorrow calls for more of the same weather (about 40, calm, and sunny) and I'm planning on putting in ~20 miles of trail running, and a little biking.

I've still got a long ways to go to be ready to race the Miwok on May 3rd and the GDR on June 20th but I am at least starting to feel like this is going to be possible. I guess my DNF after only 145 miles in the Ultrasport helped me to feel as strong and fresh as I do right now.

A couple photos from skiing groomed tracks today:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

GDR? Really?

I pretty much get the same response from everyone who I tell that I'm riding in the GDR: "I didn't know you were that into biking." I usually respond that I'm not that into biking but that I will be a few months from now. And then the other person usually just gets a confused look and asks when my next running race will be after the GDR is done with. It almost seems as though people don't even believe me that I'm riding the GDR.

Why then? Why would I devote most of my summer to one cycling event when I'm 10 times the runner and could squeeze in 3 or 4 running races in the time I'll spend training for and riding the GDR? If others find it so confusing, why am I so certain that I want to do this race?

The simplest answer to this is that I think it will be fun. By fun I mean painful, beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating, impossible, inspiring, and oh so long. I will get to live each day only for riding my bike through some of the most scenic terrain in the world, and I will get to do this everyday for a few weeks!

Beyond this though there is an intense draw for me because it will be so new and difficult. If I were to run a few 100 mile races this summer (instead of the GDR) I would almost certainly finish them. The draw in that case would be the competition and pushing myself to perform as fast as possible. The GDR will be completely different though. It will have nothing to do with racing and everything to do with seeing if I can ride my bike all day everyday for a few weeks. I know that I can finish the GDR, but that doesn't do anything to change the fact that there is a higher likelihood that I do not finish.

Many would say that the prudent approach would be to work more gradually up to the GDR, with a plan to ride the GDR in '09 or '10, but the reality is that I am much more serious of a runner than biker and I'm just not going to take 2 or 3 years out of the peak of my running career to do this. This is quite likely a one time thing for me. The sense of accomplishment if I somehow find a way to ride all the way to Antelope Wells will be beyond anything I've ever experienced. And the biggest reason for this is because I'm "not that into biking." And if I crash and burn somewhere in Montana, well I gave something a shot that no one seems to understand why I'm doing anyway. And for me that will be enough. Simply lining up and giving my best shot at something that is so beyond my ability and experience as a cyclist... I get excited just thinking about it now.

OK, I guess this all sounds like a jumbled mess in which I don't really make it any more clear as to why I'm riding the GDR, but in my mind I know it's the thing I most want to do this summer and that's enough for me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


My recovery and moving forward with my training has gone very well the past couple weeks. I have had some leftover pain in my left knee on and off but it hasn't really bothered me at all in 5 days. My ankle is completely recovered. My training is back to almost a full load. Right now for the past week I've put in just over 20 hours, with almost 150 miles of biking and just over 40 miles of running. All in all I would say that I am 99% recovered from the Ultrasport and moving quickly forward.

My training plan is to put in another 10 days or so similar to my past couple weeks. That is trying to ride my bike most everyday and run about 2 out of every three days. And then in early April I will begin to really focus on getting some quality runs in. Some speed, some hills, and some decent distance runs. With all that I will need to cut my biking time back so I will also at that time begin to get more quality (as opposed to quantity) time on the bike, that is I will actually begin biking hard and more focused, whereas the 325 miles I've put in on the bike in the past 18 days has all been slow and steady, just getting comfortable with being on the bike everyday again. In April my focus will be much more on running to get sharpened for the Miwok but with the GDR less than 3 months away now I'm going to try to keep any kind of momentum I can on the bike.

And then as soon as I'm done with the Miwok (May 3rd) I'll be spending almost all of my training time on the bike. The month of May should see me pedaling over 1,000+ miles of desert roads and trails. There are so many places I have in mind that I want to explore in Southern Utah that my aim will be for almost every one of these miles to be on a new trail or road than any of the miles previous. I can't even begin to explain the excitement I have for my training in May. I have a feeling this is going to be one of those summers that I will always think back to with much fondness and nostalgia.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

If The Sun Won't Come To Me...

...Then I'm going to go to the sun.

One month from today I am quitting my job. And then a few days after that I am boarding a ferry to Bellingham, Washington. From there I'll have a week to make my way down the coast to run the Miwok 100k (north of San Fran.) on May 3rd. After that I'll head East a couple states and spend the rest of my spring riding my bike in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico in preparation for the Great Divide Race which starts on June 20th.

To say I'm excited for this summer would be a pretty serious understatement. Not only will I be taking the summer off from work to run and ride as much as possible, but for most of this time I will be living outside on the Colorado Plateau.

Alaska is home in the sense that I currently have a job, apartment, and all of my stuff here; New York is home in the sense that I grew up there and my entire family lives there; but nowhere do I feel as much at "home" as when I'm in Southern Utah living outside. And lucky for me this is what I'll be doing most of the summer and likely into the fall. I'm not sure if I have enough of a credit card limit to fund this adventure but I intend to find out.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It's Good To Be Alive...

I don't mean this in the cheesy I had a great day sense, but rather in the being alive is better than being dead sense. As in I probably came closer to dying today than I ever have in my life.

I did my longest run since the Ultrasport today, about 11 miles. For most of the run I was zoned out and not very aware of my surroundings but as I got close to home my left knee was bothering me quite a bit and I had a large blister forming on my right heel (I was giving my Hardrocks one last chance but they just don't fit my feet and I'm not going to wear them anymore).

I was about a mile from home when I really started to feel that I just wanted to be at home and I was trying to look ahead of me on the road to find a recognizable landmark so I could tell just how far I still had to go. Nothing ahead in my line of vision looked familiar so I glanced over my shoulder to see if I had just passed anything that would look more familiar to me.

Just as I looked behind me I saw an SUV sliding sideways in the road heading directly toward me at 40mph, about 100 feet away. My first reaction was to speed up and then after two or three strides I came to my senses and realized that I was not going to outrun a vehicle moving at 40mph. Without even thinking about it I bolted through the small snowbank on the side of the road and down a hill into the woods. I headed right away for the largest trees I saw, knowing that if I got past those trees I would be safe because the vehicle would not be able to get past them. And then a split second later I heard the crunch of metal on wood, and I stopped.

I ran back to the SUV which was smashed up against the trees just behind me, about 10 feet away! Luckily the woman behind the wheel was fine because the passenger side of the vehicle took the brunt of the impact. I stuck around for a minute to be certain she was okay and that she had a phone with her and then I basically sprinted home, almost hyperventilating before getting safely into my living room where I collapsed on the floor and just laid and stared at the ceiling for about 10 minutes.

When I finally calmed down and began to move on with my day I had one very distinct memory of the incident that will likely remain in my mind forever: I was listening to the NPR program, "To The Best Of Our Knowledge" as this was unfolding. After I ran into the trees and heard the SUV slam into the trees behind me I immediately ripped my ear buds out of my ears. And then as I ran toward the vehicle I could hear the car stereo playing the same program I had been listening to. The gap in the audio was no more than 2 seconds. I don't know why but the sound of the voices being ripped out my ears, but then returning gradually louder and louder as I approached the smashed up SUV has been left so distinctly in my mind. Perhaps the most ironic thing about this is that the program I was listening to was all about memories in the brain and why we remember certain things and forget others.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pete B. Wins Again

Pete Basinger has likely won more endurance (100 miles and up) snow bike races than anyone in the world (maybe Rocky R., Mike C., or John S. has won more?). Not bad considering that Pete's still got about 15 years ahead of him in which his ultra-endurance will continue to increase!

I was pretty shocked when only 36% of people who responded to my last poll figured he would be the first to Nome. No disrespect to Jay, Carl, or Rocky but in my mind Pete's likelihood of being the first to Nome was more like 60 or 70%.

Anyhow, as most of you have probably heard by now he made it into Nome last night as the top finisher of the "full length" Iditarod Invitational.

A pretty amazing race for Pete that included a 12 hour stop in Skwentna to wait for a new pedal to be flown in; a 12 hour stop in Nikolai to recover from a stomach illness that he came down with out on the trail; a stretch in the middle of the race that involved so much pushing that it took him 6.5 days to go just over 250 miles; after this awful stretch of pushing on soft trail he decided to drop out of the race only to change his mind several hours later and head back out on the trail; and then he made an amazing push at the end, covering the last 220 miles of trail in just under 50 hours! When it was all said and done he came up just one day away from breaking the race record for the northern route to Nome! Pretty amazing stuff. Congratulations Pete. Also congratulations to Carl H. and Rok K. who have both rolled into Nome today. Also best wishes to those still out on the trail - Bill M., Kathi M., Tim H., and Jose D.

Now that my last poll has been decided I've thrown a new one up (just for you Nykole). I was thinking about my races from last season while I was running today and trying to decide in my mind which one I felt was my best race, or at the very least which one I learned the most things that I'll be able to use in my races coming up this year. I couldn't come up with a definite answer. In some ways I think each race I did last year was my "best" performance in it's own way, but then I got thinking that it would be interesting to see how other people perceive my races and compare this to the perceptions that I have in my mind. If you are really bored and you want to make a very in depth vote you can check out my race reports from each race:

Susitna 100 race report
24 Hours of Light race report
Crow Pass Crossing race report
Resurrection Pass race report

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ultrasport Videos

I've finally uploaded all my videos that I took during the race.
Most of them are about 1-2 minutes. They're really not that exciting (some of them are just plain boring) but I thought as long as I've got them I may as well post them in case someone out there is interested.

This first one is the start of the race. Sunday, February 24th @ 2:00 pm:

These next two are from that first afternoon, less than 30 miles into the race:

This next one is the following afternoon, almost 24 hours, and almost 90 miles into the race:

These next three are late in the day on Monday, after leaving the second checkpoint at Skwentna, between mile 90 and 110:

This next video is more for the audio than the video. It was taken Tuesday morning after a woke up at Finger Lake checkpoint (mile 130)... 40+ hours into the race and I was trying to decide if there was anyway my ankle would allow me to continue:

These next couple videos are from Tuesday, the day that I tried to push on beyond Finger Lake but was only able to make it 7 or 8 miles before turning back:

And this last one is from Wednesday, my 4th and final day out there, taking off from Finger Lake in a little 4 seater plane back to Anchorage:

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Looking Ahead

One benefit of not making it to McGrath is that I didn't end up wearing down my body even close to what I expected. My injuries from the race are 95% healed and mentally I'm 100% ready to move forward. I ran 7 miles today and felt pretty good. It'll take a little bit to get back into the full swing of training everyday but the biggest thing that's encouraging to me right now is just how anxious and excited I am for getting back at it.

I spent a good part of yesterday and today putting together my GDR setup. I'm trying out the frame bag and seat post bag that Eric made for Jill to use in the Ultrasport. The frame bag fits my bike perfectly and I'm almost certain I will be using this in the GDR. The seat post bag also seems to fit well but I'll need to wait until I ride with it more to make a decision on whether to use the large seat post bag or to get a rear rack and use a trunk bag. At this point as long as the seat post bag is sturdy and stable enough for bouncy off road riding I can't see any reason to go with a rack. At first I thought that I might need the rack to have enough space but when I loaded up my bags today I was able to very comfortably fit my sleeping bag, tarp shelter, a spare tube, a pair of bike shorts, a bike jersey, and a wind jacket in the seat bag. I'm pretty sure I can then fit everything else in the frame bag and in my Wingnut enduro pack that I'll be wearing on my back. With two water bottles mounted to my fork and a 6 liter MSR bladder in my pack this setup will give me the ability to carry almost 2 gallons of water and about 2 days worth of food if needed. Also, in extreme cases I could fit quite a lot more stuff in the seat post bag (it's designed specifically for winter cycling so it expands to be able to fit large amounts of clothing) so in reality I could probably carry food for 4 or 5 days, which should be well beyond any amount I'll ever really need.

For the next several weeks I plan to ride my bike most everyday, while continuing to run 4 or 5 days a week. The roads are clear of ice and snow and I'm very tempted to get my road bike out for some riding, but instead I am going to try to do all my riding on my GDR setup, carrying my full race kit whenever the weather is decent.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Excitement Brewing on the Trail to Nome?

It feels like it's been forever since I dropped out of the race last week. I'm finally back in Juneau and I got out for my first workout today since the race. I ran a couple miles, biked almost an hour, and lifted some weights. It all felt pretty good. I didn't notice any pain in my ankle. There was a little stiffness in my left knee but it got better as I used it. I still have a little pain in my right ankle when I stretch it but it keeps getting better and better each day.

As I said, it feels like it's been forever since my race ended but the amazing thing is that there are still 11 racers out there pushing on to Nome! The leaders are now just past the halfway point of the 1,100 miles to Nome.

Check out my poll on the sidebar to vote for who you think will be the first of the four front cyclists to get Nome. The voting so far shows a lot of confidence in the least experienced Alaska winter rider, but then again Jay P. has shown that lack of experience is no obstacle for him. It's looking more and more like it should be a really exciting race amongst these four riders. They're all VERY strong riders and if they continue to stick together for a few more days it'll get really intriguing to see if they start to "race" more toward the finish.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

So What Exactly Went Wrong?

As my recovery moves along this is the question I keep trying to find an answer to. All of my lower leg ailments are almost completely pain free after 7 days mostly off my feet. There is still a little pain behind my left knee and on the top front of my right ankle, but all the swelling is gone and based on my progression I suspect all pain will be gone in another 2 or 3 days.

I have three likely theories as to the root cause of my ankle/lower leg problems. The first, and most obvious is of course my shoes. As many will recall I made a decision to change my race shoe just two weeks before the race. I felt great running in these shoes in that two weeks, but since it was so close to such a long race I never did a long run in those shoes. In fact I don't think I went out for more than 10 miles in them in a single run until the first day of the race. It could easily be that these shoes were somehow lacking in support in critical areas that my shoes I had done most of my long training runs in weren't. Thus my upper ankles needed to make up for this lack of support and after several hours of doing so they just couldn't handle the extra stress that they weren't used to.

My second theory for my lower leg demise is that perhaps I didn't do enough training as slow as I would be traveling in the race. I have no doubts that the overall volume of my training was sufficient but I didn't do all that much training with my sled AND at the ridiculously slow shuffle/speed walk that I would need to do during the race to sustain enough energy for 350 miles. It could simply be that this slower shuffle uses my lower legs in a way different enough from standard running that, just as with the shoes, my lower legs were forced to be used in ways that they just hadn't been used enough in training.

In reality it may have likely been some combination of these two things. But I think even more likely is my third theory: There was an actual specific moment when I first noticed the pain in my right ankle (about mile 25), but it wasn't that I took a misstep or anything at that time. I simply was running along and felt a slight bit of pain there, and then it was gone for awhile, and then it came back for awhile, and eventually it would come back each time with a little more severity. And then eventually I couldn't hardly stand on my feet anymore. The thing is though that I was still able to run all the way up to mile 130. I think it's entirely likely that whatever I did to cause that first little feeling of pain around mile 25 would have normally been no big deal at all. Even if I were doing a long (50 mile) training run I would have been able to finish the run pretty comfortably and I would have likely had a little soreness the next day, but nothing that I would have thought much about. And within another day or two all would have been well and I would have forgotten completely about it. Even if this problem had happened at mile 25 of a 100 mile race I don't know that it would have ended up being that big of a deal. At mile 100 of my race last week I was actually feeling great. Had I stopped at that point I would have certainly had some swelling and pain for a few days but I would have taken several days off anyway from having raced 100 miles and by the time I got back at it all pain would have been gone and I would have once again forgotten all about it. In other words I think what went wrong is simply that I was trying to run one of the toughest races in the world and did a little something to tweak my ankle when I still had 325 miles to go. Over the course of the next 100 miles I favored this leg more and more until finally I began to overwork my other leg, thus the pain in my left ankle and knee.

My solution for the next time around is simple then. I will do what I need to do to cover all of these potential causes. I will train more in the shoes I intend to race in. I will train more with my sled and at much slower pace. And I will hope for better luck. I'm sure if I get lucky and avoid injury next time there will still be plenty of unlucky weather and route conditions that will still make getting to McGrath nearly impossible. And it's this impossibility which has me almost entirely certain that I'll be back out there giving it a try again a year from now.