Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Tale Of Two Races

Very interesting race for me down in Arizona this weekend. Considering the way the second half of the race went for me I still haven't figured out how I was able to actually make it to the finish, let alone hold on to win the race with a decent time of 8:13.

There were several things I really like about this race. One of them is that the start area is a nice, quiet little spot, with plenty of space to sleep in the forest near the start line, and a small town a mile down the road, with anything you might need the evening before the race. I wish all races were as easy in this regard.

So by the time we started at 5am Saturday morning, I had had such a relaxing 16 hours in Arizona that it was really easy to feel comfortable and relaxed running in the morning darkness. To make things even more relaxing, there were no rabbits that took the pace out very fast so I was able to just cruise along with Dakota, Hal, and Nico for a bit. It felt really easy, and I was really surprised to get to mile 17 (exactly the 1/3 point of this 51 mile route) on pace to run about 7:45. The pace felt so easy to that point that I was certain that as long as things didn't come undone for me I could keep up that pace for the full race, and probably even cruise the last 10 miles or so a little faster. I was still feeling about the same through the mile 23 aid station, but then things went the other way really quickly, but also somehow kind of subtly.

The ironic thing was that just at the point that I started to not feel so great, I pulled away from Dakota (we had already pulled away from the rest of the field somewhere around mile 10) and would end up running the rest of the race on my own. From about mile 25 to the finish I ended up feeling like I was bonking almost the entire way. At some points it would get a little better, but I basically never felt even as good as average after mile 25. I had no specific problems, I just didn't have any energy. My stomach was a little off all day, so I was never able to really take in as many calories as I probably needed. And it got quite hot by the middle of the race. Neither of these things should have made me feel this bad though. I've run plenty or races when I'm only able to take in about 200 calories per hour as I did in this one (I prefer when I can get down 300). In hundred milers I think it's necessary to take in more than 200 per hour, but I've gotten through plenty of 50 milers in the past in which I only took 200 per hour and have felt fine. I've also run plenty of races when it's been as hot or hotter than it was in this one. It never feels as good to run in 80 degrees as it does in 50, but the heat alone has never made me feel this weak before.

At any rate, to make a long story short I just kept trudging along, putting one foot in front of the other. I walked almost all of the uphills in the last 20 miles. I walked some flats. I stopped numerous times. I stopped and laid down in 3 or 4 creek crossings. None of these things seemed to help. The further I ran, the weaker I felt. This was without a doubt the worst I've ever felt for 25 consecutive miles. If I feel like this on a training run I just turn around and come home. When I've felt like this in races I've either stuck with it and turned things around, or they've continued to get worse (Bandera 2011 and Miwok 2009) and I've ended up dropping out. This weekend I never really considered dropping out, but had this been a 100k or longer I'm not sure I would have made it to the finish. Perhaps the strangest thing about how I felt for the last half of the race, was that for the first half I felt about as relaxed, strong, and comfortable as I ever feel in the first 25 miles of a race.

The other odd thing was that within minutes of finishing I felt great. Today I have no soreness whatsoever. I just didn't have the energy to run fast and far yesterday. I was able to use my stored up fitness to fake it and get myself one step in front of the other to the finish, but it was one of the toughest days of running I've ever had.

In the end though, it was a super fun weekend, a great event, and somehow, even though I felt like I was going to pass out for most of the last 25 miles, it was still a really enjoyable and satisfying run. It's funny how feeling so bad can sometimes be really horrible (Bandera) and other times somehow be tolerable and even kind of enjoyable, as it was this weekend.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Team Montrail Kicking Ass

There are so many races in ultrarunning now that almost every weekend there are impressive performances. This past weekend was certainly no exception. There was of course the old man who ran 5:55 to win the American River 50 on Saturday. Rumor has it that he even stopped a few times along the course to make balloon animals for children who saw his shoes and thought he was a clown. Wouldn't surprise me as he has two kids of his own and he's so sweet and cute with his daughter Ava, that Elle and I have taken to referring to the two of them jointly as Dava. As in Elle asking me this morning, "Are we still going to have a play date with Dava this week?"

Beyond this there were two other performances this past weekend by Montrail team mates of mine that were also hugely impressive. Ellie Greenwood also at American River and Andy Henshaw at the Mad City 100k.

Impressive performances are so common nowadays in ultrarunning that I sometimes feel immune to them. I will hear of a performance that someone has had and, even though they may have set a course record in a 20 year old race I will more or less take the news as though it were expected. Records are being broken so often that in many races I think course records are expected. There are of course still performances which really jump out and scream for attention and surprise. Of the dozen or so of these that I've been aware of in the past year I think that 3 or 4 of them belong to Ellie Greenwood. I've come to expect her to do great things just about every time she runs, but she was able to really catch my attention again this weekend. She ran 6:25, finishing 7th overall in a field of about 800 runners! Only some women by the name of Ann Trason has ever run this race faster (and correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the course has changed since the years that Ann ran it). I thought maybe, just maybe, on a great day Ellie could run 6:30 on that course, but when I got a message from her the day before the race saying that her hip has been bothering her a bit I didn't imagine she was going to do it on this day. Turns out she ran even 5 minutes faster than 6:30. Western States this year will be her first 100 miler. It's hard to expect an eye popping performance in anyone's first 100 miler, but one would have to be crazy not to at least allow for the possibility that she may do something really special on that day.

Andy's performance at Mad City may have been just as impressive. With the possible exception of Sharman at Rocky Raccoon I think this is the men's performance of the year so far (and Ellie's AR is likely the women's performance of the year so far). He ran 6:47, almost a full 10 minutes faster than Wardian's course record there! Certainly didn't see that one coming.

Team Montrail is looking stronger at the front of the pack than ever. Also a shout out to new Montrail runner Ryan Burch who finished 5th at American River in a stout time of 6:09. Super impressive for a Colorado mountain guy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Acclimatization 8 Months Later

I've been in Colorado now for 8 months and I still haven't been able to conclude whether living at 8,600 ft. altitude has had a positive, negative, or neutral effect on my running. Initially the altitude was very hard on my body. It took more than a month before my resting heart rate dropped below 48 (my sea level RHH is about 39) and I had no more than 2 or 3 runs in my first two months here that I felt really strong. I never knew how much of this was due to the altitude. Shortly after moving here I came down with a head/chest cold that lasted for about 6 weeks! I think the way I felt (pretty crappy) all of September and October was in part from the alititude, but also in part from my illness, as well as from the emotional/psychological effect of going through a change as distinct as moving to a new place, which resulted in an almost completely different day to day lifestyle for me.

As far as my racing has gone it's also hard to say what effect living this high has had. I ran 3 races in the fall and they were all pretty mediocre for me. By the time my Bandera DNF came around in early January I was starting to think that maybe living this high up was hindering my running performance. Perhaps I was just not ever able to train at a high enough pace to keep my legs tuned as much as they should be. Then I ran Chuckanut last month and completely disproved that theory. Chuckanut was one of the best days of running I've ever had (in terms of how my body felt physically).

Where this has all led to now is that I feel like living this high up was a pretty big challenge for the first several months. A challenge that my body took months to adapt to and to figure out. Now that I have made that adaptation I am beginning to feel like it is to my advantage to live at this altitude. It actually reminds me a lot of when I first moved to Juneau. It took me over a year to adapt to the terrain (super steep and in many areas super technical) in Juneau and turn what seemed like a negative thing into a very positive thing. In the case of the altitude I think a huge portion of this adaptation is purely physical, but I also don't discount that a large part of this is mental. For months I hard a very hard time accepting the way I feel when I run at 8,500+ ft. I just kept waiting for it to feel better. And day after day it just kept feeling pretty crappy, especially when I went up to 10, 11, 12k, and above. Now it still feels kind of crappy when I go up that high, but I've come to accept that this is OK. I've finally, after 8 months, let go of my preconceived notions of what it's supposed to feel like to run.

A couple days ago I did a loop run on snowshoes up in the Indian Peaks Wilderness that was 15 miles and took me up to 11,700ft. It took me almost 4 hours to complete and when I was done I felt like it would have been tough for me to do that loop much faster than I did. I was exhausted. Several months ago a run like this would have really frustrated me. In the same way that "running" up some of the steeper trails in Juneau really frustrated me the first year or two that I lived there.

Now that I have made this shift in consciousness my hope is that it will remain ingrained in my psyche to accept the way it feels to run at high altitude. I'm leaving in one month to head back to Juneau for the summer. After 5 years in Juneau I have little doubt that I will have any problem accepting what it is to run in the mountains around Juneau (probably just seeing the mountains on the flight into town and I'll shift instantly into my Juneau Running Mentality). What will be more interesting though will be to see how quickly I adapt (both physically and mentally) to being back at altitude when I return to Colorado in August. I suspect this shift will take more than just seeing the landscape again, but hopefully this time it takes something more like 8 days than the 8 months that it took this year. I guess time will tell.

Alpine Works

As I've mentioned a few times on this blog before, I have a strong belief that many runners try to incorporate too much structure and specificity into their running. I think most runners would benefit a lot from allowing for the possibility that in most cases their instincts are likely more valuable than what some other runner tells them they should do. I do think that we can learn a lot about ourselves (as runners or otherwise) from observing other people, but ultimately I think we learn the most when we are able to mostly tune out what others are doing and tune further into ourselves and further into the land that we run through.

This said, I do believe that for most people it takes some coaching (or more accurately, some guidance) to be able to more clearly understand ourselves, and to understand some of the more elusive aspects of running, such that we can more easily get to this place of trusting fully in our own instincts. I do believe in most cases we can eventually get to this place on our own, but I also believe that most people can get there a lot more smoothly with proper coaching.

Of the people I've met through the mountain/trail/ultra running community, Joe Grant seems to have an understanding of running and philosophies about running that are more similar to mine than anyone. This isn't to say he and I see eye to eye on everything that is running, but certainly we experience many of the key aspects of running in a very similar way.

I often have people ask me if I think they should hire a coach, and if so who would I recommend. For awhile my advice has always been, "you are your best coach. Just go out and run and figure it out for yourself and in the end you will be a much stronger runner (and person) than you ever could have been with any coach. As I've gotten to know Joe in the past 8 months (we both moved to the Boulder area around the same time) , and consistently learned things about running (and life) from him, I've often had the thought that he would be someone who really could coach runners in a way that would help them move smoothly to this place of being their own best coach. He has a deep understanding of many of the hard, tangible, more technical aspects of the sport, but also a deep understanding of the intangibles. I think he is someone who could teach runners in a way that would not in any way limit or restrict their own instinctual skills and knowledge.

Okay, now for the best part: Joe has recently launched a personal coaching business. Joe has become a good friend of mine, so maybe you're thinking this is just a shameless plug for a friend's business, but nope, I really do believe that he is the one runner I have met who I would recommend to someone who is looking for a coach. At the very least check out his website and decide for yourself. He's a great writer too, so even if his coaching services aren't for you I highly recommend checking out some of the intriguing content he has on the website.

CEP Compression

I've never really been a big fan of compression (socks, calf sleeves, etc). Recently though I've been wearing a pair of CEP Compression socks and I think they do much more for me than other compression socks I've worn. The difference I presume comes from the fact that they seem to be a much higher quality product than the 3 or 4 other brands I've tried. They actually maintain their tight, compressed fit over time so that they're not just a long, silly looking sock with little to no compression after a few uses. I've probably worn the pair I have 30 times and they feel just as tight fitting as the first time I wore them. It's obviously hard to judge what kind of effect something like this has our bodies and their recovery, but certainly I've been feeling really good lately. There are so many factors that contribute to how we feel on a day in and day out basis, but I do feel like I generally have been recovering a bit more smoothly when I wear these socks after hard runs. Until I feel otherwise I'll be wearing them more and more. Luckily with these socks that doesn't mean that they're just going to get stretched out and useless. I highly recommend giving them a try.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Running As Pilgrimage

My girlfriend Corle, is writing an essay for school about Ultrarunning as a means for re-engagement with the land through the lens of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage can be distinguished from travel by including the following phases: hearing the call; preparation; separation; liminal or transitional; threshold; incorporation; and then integration. These phases speak to the journey as having an intimate and deep connecting with Self, but also as service to others. The re-engagement aspect of the essay is to explore healing the land, and societal ecopsychy, through ultrarunning. If this sounds at all intriguing and you would like to be interviewed for her essay, please contact her at: It'd just be a few short email questions and she'd be excited to have some broader input, beyond just me and a few of my local friends.

Friday, April 1, 2011

No Cali

As I'm sure most folks have heard by now the Lake Sonoma 50 that I was supposed race tomorrow has been cancelled due to flooding on the course. It would have been nice to race this weekend, but it's also going to be really nice to spend a weekend at home with Corle and Elle. Not to mention that tomorrow is supposed to be the warmest day here on the Colorado front range since sometime in October.

In a couple weeks I'll use the time, money, and energy that was going to go toward Lake Sonoma to go down to Arizona and race the Zane Grey 50. I'm super excited for this race. It's one I've had my eye on for a few years now and with a few other runners defecting from Sonoma to ZG it should be a really fun day of racing. It's probably a bit close to the SBER 100 to be ideal, but it certainly won't be the first time I've done "too many" races in a short period of time. I guess time will tell if 13 days is enough time between on of the toughest 50 milers in the country and one of the toughest 100 milers in the country.