Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year in Review

I knew it would be nearly impossible to repeat the breakout season I had in 2011 again this year.  Last year I made the US 100k team for the first time and set several course records.  Of course, breaking the course record that had stood at JFK 50 Mile for 17 years was the most notable and won me Ultra Performance of the Year honors.  Now all I can do is laugh after Max King shaved six minutes off my record this year.  It's clear the sport is growing at a rapid pace, and I'm just glad to be a part of it.

Even if it doesn't quite stack up to last year,  I still think that 2012 was a very successful year for me.  I attempted some new distances and trail types that were a little outside of my strengths.  These were challenging experiences, but I learned much from each race.  I also looked for very competitive races this year.  That's not all that hard considering the trajectory of the sport, but that made the wins a little harder to come by.  But maybe I'm most proud that I was able to make it through another year running mostly injury free while still competing at a high level.

Here are a few highlights from the past 12 months:

Mtn Mist 50k
My hometown 50k was one of those special races last year where I broke the course record.  I knew it would be tough to repeat the feat in 2012 from the start because the course was wet and muddy, not the frozen trail that ran so fast the year before.  I gave it a shot anyway and was running well through the halfway point.  But around mile 20 I slipped on a rock and fell really hard.  At that point, I decided it was too risky to force the issue and try to chase down my own course record.  I knew I had some bigger goals later in the year.  Even so, I won the race and was only 3 minutes of my course record.




Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile
LBL50 was more of a long, hard training run for me, but it was still a strong effort and a fun race.  It's run in Kentucky and within driving distance of my house which made it particularly attractive.  Being relatively flat, I felt like it would serve as a good tune-up race before the 100k World Champs.  Although I got a little excited early and went out faster than planned, I still was able to easily win the race and set a new course record.  I left the race with a list of things to work on, but I also knew my fitness was in a really good place.



IAU World 100km Championship - Seregno, Italy
My best performance of the year is likely my most overlooked race as well.  After a DNF in 2011 due to some sort of illness in the Netherlands, I was determined to avenge my drop when I was selected for the 2012 team. While my training had been great, a work trip to France immediately prior to the race, unfamiliar accommodations, and logistical headaches in Italy all left me little time to worry about the road race. So I arrived at the starting line oddly relaxed and just ready to do something that felt comfortable...run.

A slew of slower runners who felt they were entitled to have their toes pressed against the starting line got me fired up and the adrenaline coursing through my vanes as I snowplowed through them as soon as the gun went off.  That got me off to a quicker than normal start where I soon found my rhythm at 6:20 pace - a little faster than planned.  But I felt comfortable and just hung on for as long as I could.  I made to 50 miles or so before I really started to die, and that last 20k loop was really tough.  But I held it together well enough to finish 5th overall, the first American to cross the line, and with a new 100k PR of 6:45:19.  The top 10 finish at the World Championship qualified me for the 2013 US Team and we'll be racing in South Korea next fall.  (I just received word that the 100k in South Korea has been cancelled and race organizers are looking for a replacement venue.)


My training for Western States began immediately after the 100k.  I'm not sure what I was expecting to do at Quad Rock just 3 weeks after Italy.  From an incredible effort at a pancake flat, road ultra to the most elevation change I've ever run before, and my first ultra at altitude as well.  No surprise now that I have the benefit of 20/20 vision.  It was a tough day in the mountains outside of Fort Collins.  I wasn't fully recovered, the altitude bothered me, I wasn't eating nearly enough, and I just wasn't prepared for that much climbing.  No regrets on that last point; I had to pick training focus for the spring and I chose the 100k.  I nearly quit around mile 32, but I just sat at the aid station for 10 minutes until I was able to eat.  Once I got some calories in me I was able to pull on my big boy britches and finish the race.  Although far from perfect, Quad Rock was a great learning experience and really gave me an appreciation and respect for what I would be up against in just six weeks at Western States 100.

Elevation profile of QR50 compared to my toughest race to date.


Western States Endurance Run
My first 100 mile race wasn't perfect, but it was about all I could ask for.  Well, maybe I could ask for one spot better.  I finished in 11th place with a time of 16:42:55 on one of the coolest days in the history of the race.  A top 10 finish would have earned me a spot in the 2013 WS100 race, but it wasn't to be.  Check out my race report if you want all the details, but the short version is this:  I felt off for the first 30 miles struggling with the cold and altitude.  The next 30 miles climbing through the canyons should have been my weak point, but I finally started feeling normal and ran this portion really well.  But then I crashed hard on the flat Cal Street section when I should have been able to roll.  I struggled for about 20 miles, but ran really well the last 7 miles or so and had a strong finish.  There so much energy and attention surrounding Western States that it's tempting to make every effort to get back in, but I'm taking the "when one door closes, another one opens" approach and will look to race more to my strengths this spring.




Offseason
During my offseason I ran a 15:37 road 5k and also participated in the Hood to Coast relay.  Both were very fun events and added a little variety to my schedule.  Although I hope to be involved in ultras for a long time, I will continue running the short, fast stuff occasionally.

Ultra Race of Champions
The UROC 100k was my mulligan for the year.  I went out too fast, got a sour stomach, and wasn't prepared for the elevation change that was much higher than advertised.  I dropped around mile 44 after eating almost nothing since getting sick at mile 18.

The following weekend I jumped in a very small, local 6/12 hr race on a 1.4 mile paved loop.  I put in 51 miles in 5:50.  I proved to myself that my fitness was fine, but it also proved to be too much for my body to handle. I struggled with minor injuries for the next month that prevented my normal training regimen leading into JFK.



JFK 50 Mile
JFK wasn't a bad race, but it wasn't great either.  Unfortunately, it would have taken a great race on my part to run with Max King or Trent Briney.  Max broke 5:35 shaving a considerable amount of time off the course record of 5:40:45 that I set last year.  Max and I came off the Appalachian Trail section around mile 16 together, but he just had too much leg speed for me to run with him on the tow path.  The nagging injuries I struggled with following UROC kept me from being in top form, but I don't think I would have been able to run with him regardless.  Trent Briney came off the AT several minutes behind me, but showed off his 2:12 marathon speed as he came rolling past me somewhere around mile 30.  It was mostly just a lonely grind the rest of the day for me, but I am proud of myself for staying mentally strong and finishing the race well.  My time of 5:45:13 is still the 5th fastest time ever run on the JFK course in its 50 year history.



2013
I haven't finalized all the race details for 2013 yet, but I'm exploring my options.  Mtn Mist 50k is the only race I'm certain I'll be doing in the next 3 months.  I'd like to take some time and really focus on my training for the next few months and not worry too much about racing.  December's training went really well, and it seems as though I have my nagging injuries ironed out now.  The last full week of 2012 I put in 110 miles in singles with two hard workouts and averaged 6:44 pace.  Right now, I have a strong desire to work on my road marathon speed again.  We'll just have to see where that takes me.

Happy New Year to all my friends!  Best of luck achieving your goals in 2013.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Redefining the Grind

2012 JFK 50 Mile Race Report

Grinding down the towpath.





















Perspective is a strange thing.  Case in point, I just ran 5:45 at this year's 50th running of the JFK 50 Mile. That is the 5th fastest time in race history.  It would have been a new course record in the first 48 editions of the race.  Sounds like I have a lot to be excited about right?  Well, I am - sort of - but my perspective tempers my excitement.  It just didn't feel like I ran very fast last Saturday.

First of all, I ran 5 minutes slower than last year.  Granted, that was one of those phenomenal races where everything just comes together perfectly.  It's not realistic to think every race could be that way, but it's hard to forget how that felt.  Secondly, I came in third place this year.  It's even more difficult to feel great when you watch 2 guys roll by you effortlessly and know you won't be seeing them again until the finish line.

So the best description of how I feel about my race is that it felt like a Grind.  I never felt particularly good or fast, I just gutted it out and never gave up even though I didn't feel smooth early.  But I am proud of myself for grinding it out.  Especially after a DNF at UROC six weeks ago and the ensuing injury that hampered my training since, I really needed a solid race.  I knew my training hadn't been perfect, and I wasn't quite in the same form as last year, but JFK gave me a chance to learn how strong I am - mentally as much or more than physically.  



Here are a few more highlights from the race:

Max and I ran relatively close together for a good portion of the Appalachian Trail.  I think he was content just to sit a few seconds back, being careful not to make a mistake, and just wait for the towpath.  My legs felt relatively good on the AT.  I was a minute or so faster hitting the towpath after being slower to the trailhead at the start, so I ran the technical section a good bit faster than last year.  It's fairly apparent where my training has been focused the last six months, and I was very strong on the rocky trail because of that focus.

The grinding really began when I hit the towpath.  Max passed me within a mile and was gone.  Last year I was consciously holding myself back to keep from running sub 6:30 pace early, whereas this year I didn't feel smooth running sub 6:40 and the legs began aching early.  My lack of fast, flat long runs over the last 6 months was very apparent.

My nutrition situation has been a problem most of the year, and this race was no exception.  I dropped out of UROC largely due to stomach problems, and because of my injury, I wasn't able to practice a new nutrition strategy between then and JFK.  But something had to change, so I went ahead with my untested strategy which consisted of only drinking GU Roctane...no gels.  I had the occasional pretzel, a couple swallows of Coke, and a few salt tabs, but other than that it was just the high-calorie Roctane drink.  Clearly I survived following this plan, but the stomach definitely could have felt better.  I need to continue tweaking and practicing my nutrition plan, but I imagine this will be my biggest weakness for some time to come.

Max King and Trent Briney just raised the bar and redefined what is humanly possible on that course.  I have my work cut out for me if I want to challenge their times next year.

That's a pretty solid top 10 group of guys.




So what now?  To be honest, I'm not sure.  I didn't earn an entry into Western States, so that doesn't look like a real high possibility for June.  I'm tossing around a few ideas though.  I know I'm going to focus on the World 100k that will be run in South Korea next October.  This spring I think I could go two ways.  I could train to run a fast, flat 100 miler.  Or I could go back to real road marathon training and see what I'm capable of now.  The road marathon speed would serve me well next fall at World 100k and if I decide to run JFK again.

First though, I'm going to take a few weeks, get everything healthy, and enjoy the holidays.  I hope you do the same.

King, Riddle and Clifton.  19 years of the JFK course record.



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Uncharted Territory

I have been incredibly fortunate to have avoided a serious injury throughout my competitive running career. For the last month though, I have been struggling to keep a relatively minor injury from snowballing into something more serious.  The issue is a bit of tendonitis that I think was triggered by a stone bruise that I picked up at UROC.  

Stone bruise from UROC.

The strange thing is that the tendonitis is in a quite different spot than the bruise is the picture above.  The pain is actually on the front of my shin, just above the ankle.  My unprofessional opinion is that all symptoms point to anterior tibialis tendonitis.  That tendon attaches to a bone in the arch right where I got the stone bruise.  I ran for more than a week after UROC with zero pain.  The spot on my arch was tender to touch, but not to run.  But, I think the trauma to that attachment point caused the muscle and tendon to tighten down in an attempt to protect itself.  I ran way too long a week after UROC (but felt really good doing it), and then I felt the tendon above my ankle give way after a Tuesday night track workout a few days later.

Arrow shows where it  hurts now.


I didn't think much of it when it first happened.  I thought it would heal quickly like other nuisance injuries I've had before.  But this hurt pretty good - even just to walk.  I ran real easy and short on it for a few days, and when it started to feel better, I went longer and harder.  That was a mistake.  I made that mistake about 3 times before I figured out that I had to let it get all the way better.

You may have heard that I ran a consecutive day running streak.  I don't like talking about it anymore, because I don't think it's all that healthy, and I really wouldn't recommend starting one to anyone I was coaching.  In periods of low motivation, the streak can be very encouraging, but it's going to be very difficult for me to break off.  So of course, I still ran every day through this injury.  The sad part is that it most likely would have healed faster if I had taken just a week completely off.  Let that be a lesson if you're ever in a similar situation.

Anyway, I finally backed off enough that it got better.  I think I'm about 95% right now and running with no pain again.  I was able to go 20 miles at a nice clip yesterday.  That was the first time in a month I could have finished that run.  

I'm still planning to race JFK, and being less than 2 weeks out now, I don't have the time to hammer myself to make up for lost training (<<another thing I don't recommend).  The good news is that legs should be pretty fresh.  And while I don't think I lost a ton of fitness in the last month, I don't think I'm quite as tuned for JFK like I was last year when I spent all summer and fall training for flat an fast ultras (World 100k and JFK).  I'm most worried about the legs just being a little flat since I haven't been able to exercise them like I normally would.  

I just hope I can keep it interesting this year.  Max King should be the clear favorite to win.  Zach Bitter and myself will probably be duking it out for 2nd place.  I haven't heard of any other top men, but you never know who might show up.  Ellie Greenwood will be there and she'll overshadow us all.

In other news, I'll be heading to a trail running camp sponsored by Team RWB next weekend down in Texas. The camp is targeted at veterans and is aligned with Team RWB's goal of helping to re-integrate soldiers returning from deployment back into civilian life.  Endurance sports is one of the primary tools that the group uses to achieve that goal.  I will be there serving as a coach and mentor along with a bunch of other accomplished trail runners.  It's going to be a great way for me to give a little back to our veterans by sharing my passion for the trails.  I'm sure it will be a lot of fun as well.

That's all for now.  I'll try to keep you up-to-date over the next couple weeks via Twitter (@rundavid1), but I kind of doubt I'll have cell reception down in Texas.

Monday, October 1, 2012

UROC Not So Much

In some ways it's almost easier to blog about my bad races than my good ones. It's been especially tough just getting a post started lately. Although I don't really want to talk about it, I have plenty to say about UROC 100k. So let's get this over with.

It was a lonely day even when I was running with Mackey. (photo by Gill)

The short story is that I got sick to my stomach and puked around mile 18 for some unknown reason. Although I've struggled for the past year or so to get my gels down, I have actually never thrown up as a result of running. Pretty impressive since I've been racing at some level for 18 years. I got close at Western States, but recovered relatively well. The same can't be said about UROC. I felt better briefly after I got sick, but continued to feel that if I looked at another gel that I'd puke again. So I only ate one more gel the rest of the race. Pretzels and saltines tasted good and settled my stomach but I wasn't eating enough to keep me going. I was still drinking OK, but again, not enough calories. I kept moving forward hoping that I would turn the corner and start feeling better. But it never happened and the legs basically shut down around mile 40.  I dropped at mile 44.3 as recorded by my Suunto Ambit.

I was pretty content with my decision to drop at the time because I was in a good deal of pain and didn't want to risk tearing my body up. Of course, now that I feel better, I am second guessing myself. You always feel like you could pushed a little harder after the race don't you?

An early smile. Wish it had lasted. (photo by iRunFar.com)

My legs actually felt really good early in the race. I was pleasantly surprised as I felt like I was climbing well without over-extending myself. I have been working on my climbing lately. I wasn't well prepared for the downhills, however, and first three miles of the race were straight down. Although I was trailing off the lead pack of elites, I still probably went too hard. I latched onto Nick Clark for the first big climb and was pleased that I was beginning to get the hang of the short, choppy, climbing stride that just 6 months ago was not in my repertoire. But on the road descent out of Wintergreen I left Nick and descended too quickly trying to catch up to Dave Mackey.  I caught him, but then I got sick.

Elevation profile from my Suunto Ambit.


I was actually in the lead when I got sick, but only because Max King and Sage Canaday had missed a turn earlier and gone off course for a few minutes.  They caught Mackey and I around mile 20 I think.  The 4 of us ran together for a couple miles, but eventually I started to trail off.  And then when we got back on the road again, Max split the pack wide open.  Max ended up running an incredible race.  It probably won't happen because of what Olson ran at Western States, but his performance should be seriously considered for ultra performance of the year.

I came into the race mentally prepared for 7,000-7,500ft of climb and an equal amount of descent.  I heard there was more than that last year, but I assumed the course had been altered since that was the number reported on the race website.  When I stopped at mile 44, I had 7400ft of climb already on the Ambit which is very accurate because it uses a barometric altimeter.  My buddy Jorge Maravilla who finished the race (3rd) with an Ambit on his wrist recorded 10,600ft of climb.  Granted, some last minute course changes had to be made, but that amount of climb takes it out of the "race that favors no one" category.  Sure there was a lot of road, but hardly any flat road.  I definitely wasn't as prepared as I could have been for the descents.  I think my quads and IT bands took more abuse from UROC than Western States.  But, overall I am nowhere near as locked down as I was after WS100, and will recover much more quickly.

But, my main problem is my nutrition.  I have got to figure out how to eat in a race or there isn't much point in me going longer than 50k.  Unfortunately, it seems to be a problem that is getting worse and not better.  I've got some ideas that I'm planning to try, but I'm certainly open to suggestions.  I think gels are out of the question for the time being.  I found chicken noodle soup worked well at Western States, but it's slow, inconvenient, and probably impractical for anything less than 100 miles.

I don't mind making it hurt when I run, but it's just not fun when I feel sick.


Picked up a pretty nice stone bruise early in the race.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's Fall and I'm Ready to ROC

I commented on twitter a few days ago that the summer to fall transition is my favorite change in seasons.  I think the actual fall season itself may be my favorite, but that one is a little harder to say for sure.  I love the way I feel when running as the temperatures start to drop, the air dries out, and the leaves begin to color.  It makes perfect sense then that I would be ready to return to serious ultra racing this fall after laying low for most of the summer.

I've been running consistently since Western States, but my mileage was down for a while and then I focused on regaining some leg speed.  In August I ran a 2:06 800m solo time trial on the track, a 15:37 5k on the roads, and then had a solid showing at the Hood to Coast relay.  I struggled for a short time as I tried to return to full ultra training too quickly and didn't allow my body enough time to adjust to the different workouts.  Much of that had to do with the late summer heat and humidity, but I've run much better the last couple weeks as the weather has moderated.  I touched 100 miles the last two weeks including a couple solid speed workouts and fast long runs.  Everything seems to be right now track now.



Now I'm doing a quick taper in preparation for the Ultra Race of Champions.  The race is a 100k this Saturday (September 29) near Charlottesville, VA.  The course has a good mix of trail and road sections, much of it on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.  I really like the setup of the race which is by design so that no one style of ultra runner if favored by the course.  The 100k distance will be a challenge for the faster 50k specialists, but a little short for the 100 mile pros.  With 7,500ft of elevation gain, it probably wouldn't be considered a mountain ultra, but it's enough to make it interesting for the mountain guys and gals.  The combination of road and technical single track trail will also further balance the field out.  I see it as a race that favors no one and it is really wide open.

The competition: I realize I'm starting to sound like a broken record.  It seems like every ultra I enter is the new most competitive event that I've been in, and this one is no different.  James Russell Gill and Francesca Conte have really worked hard to assemble a stellar field which will be competing for the $5000 first place prize.  Allow me a moment to name drop some of the entrants: Dave Mackey, Geoff Roes, Nick Clark, Max King, Sage Canaday, Ian Sharman, Dave James, Jordan McDougall, Jorge Maravilla, Shinji Nakadai, Dominic Grossman, Scott Jaime, Jason Loutitt and Todd Braje.  (I hear that Wardian and Adam Campbell are both out due to injury, and I don't believe Roes is healthy either.)  I don't know as much about the women's field, but Ellie Greenwood is entered and should be the one to beat.  Last year's winner Ragan Petrie, will be returning to defend her title from other contenders like Liza Howard, Joelle Vaught, Verity Breen and Tina Lewis.

I think there are 10 guys on the men's side that have a legitimate chance to win.  It just depends on who's in shape and who has their best day.  Everyone will have a weakness on this course and the guy who minimizes his losses will come out on top.

I'm excited about returning to racing and looking forward to running in the Appalachians this time of the year. I'm fit and confident, but so is the competition.  I'm also happy that our sport is growing and very few races are a foregone conclusion anymore.  I think this will make ultra running more exciting for the spectators and more of a challenge for the competitors.

One final note.  UROC is setting up some interviews with the elite runners on Friday afternoon and then a panel discussion Friday night.  If you have some questions for me or anyone else, you can submit them on UROC's facebook page.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My Offseason


Hello again. I'm back. I know it's been a while. Since Western States, almost 2 months ago now, I've taken a little down time from running as well as blogging and twittering and such. The occasional mental and physical break from running is a good thing, and my online presence just kind of naturally followed suit.

So, yeah, I guess you could consider the last couple months my "offseason." I know that may sound odd to some of you, especially those who mostly stick to the mountain trails. It seems that many ultrarunners – in particular trail ultrarunners – view the summer as the heart of the racing season. This makes a lot of sense if you live at altitude or run up high in the mountains. The snow has melted, the temperatures are comfortable, the wild flowers are blooming, and the views are spectacular. But having lived in the South and Midwest all of my life, summer is not really the ideal time of year for racing on the trails. Most of our trails have become overgrown and irritating, the weather can be oppressively hot and humid, and so naturally, there just aren't many good races nearby this time of year. So while others are peaking for their prime races of the year, I’m resetting and looking forward to the start of a new racing season.

With the IAU World Championship 100k (race report) and Western States (race report) runs having taken place relatively close together, this summer was also just a logical place to take some time for recovery. Being my first 100 miler, I wasn’t sure how Western States would affect me, so I didn’t want to plan any big events races soon afterward. I still have been running every day, but the volume has been lower than normal, and there really wasn't a specific training plan. I took a little more than two weeks after WS100 of just easy running, but toward the end of that period, I began pushing my easy runs again simply because my legs wanted to run fast. This is how I know I’m recovered and ready to roll again. I have no problem taking more downtime if needed, but I feel recovered and the desire is there. I want to run, so why not?

So how do I restart a training cycle? Many of the training systems that I have read about and learned from coaches I’ve had in the past started with a high-volume base phase early in a training cycle. In subsequent phases, you would gradually run more faster workouts culminating with a sharpening or peak phase. Since I began focusing more on ultramarathons, I’ve sort of turned that idea on its head. I like to start a new training cycle with the short, fast stuff and then work into the longer stuff later. I spend so much time doing “base” work when preparing for a big ultra, I feel the need to touch up on my leg speed in between training cycles. Plus, it’s just fun to get on the track and crank out quarters occasionally when all you’ve been doing is running slow. Variety is a good thing. But you have to be careful when switching the focus. Jumping from a 100 mile race to 200s on the track can be tough on the body, so it may not be a good idea for everyone. And I always recommend listening to your body first and foremost.

As if I needed any more motivation, a friend of mine challenged me to an 800m race during my offseason speed phase. Long story short, he never was able to race me, but I was so set on doing it that I went ahead and ran the 800 solo as a time trial.  2:06.1. I'll admit it, I'm pretty proud that I can still run that fast when required. That was a couple of weeks ago now, and I have since moved on to longer intervals like mile repeats.

After a couple good track workouts of the longer intervals, I decided that I was ready to jump in a local 5k this weekend just for fun. Fun meaning no pressure, not that I wasn't going to run hard. So yesterday, I went 15:37 for 3rd place on a rolling road course with weather conditions being quite good for August. After a 10 minute break, I added a little more quality to the workout doing 2 more 5k's right around 17 minutes each with 5 minutes rest in between. All of that was followed by another 6 miles at JFK race pace. Today I returned to the trails and did 19 miles in 2:40. My legs were definitely a touch sore, but I could have felt a lot worse. My energy levels felt good for about 2 hours,  but then I started feeling a little weak ... kind of like how you feel toward the end of an ultra. And I'm really pleased to hit 95 miles this week with that kind of quality.

These guys actually make really good road racing flats. Ran the 5k and 800 in them.

So hopefully that gives you some idea of what I do in my "offseason" and what kind of shape I'm taking into this fall. I expect you'll be hearing from me more frequently as my racing season heats up. I'm starting it off next weekend with a really fun event, the Hood to Coast relay in Portland. I'll be running with the GE corporate team (GE Meatballs) like I did 2 years ago. This is just a super-fun event and a great opportunity to visit the West Coast even if it's not for an ultra. From there, I'll be setting my sights on UROC 100k in Virginia on September 29th. That's shaping up to be another hyper-competitive ultra and I'm really excited to see what I can do on the course that favors no one.



Sunday, July 8, 2012

Western States Follow-up

I could have written a novel covering my experience at Western States this year, but I try to limit myself realizing that all of my readers have very full lives of their own and don't have the time to read an extremely long race report.  I think I hit the main points, but for those who are really interested and intimately involved in the sport, I wanted to share a few more details.  If you missed my initial race report, you might want to check it out first here.

First of all, I want to say thanks to everyone who made Western States happen. There are far too many folks to name individually, but I'd like to say a special thank you to the RDs, board members and all of the many volunteers.  I have never seen the kind of passion and dedication that the people involved in Western States have for their race, and it makes it truly a special event.  Greg Soderlund has done a fantastic job the past 12 years carrying on the tradition, and I know the new run director, Craig Thornley, will only build upon that in the coming years.  And last, but not least, thanks to my parents for crewing me, Dink Taylor for pacing, and my wife, who couldn't be there, but has to put up with me through all of the not fun parts of living the ultra running lifestyle.

Sub-17 hr finishers (plus Tiernan who was sub-16.)

OK, now let's talk about recovery.  I'm quite pleased with how my legs are coming around.  The day after the race, I could barely run at all. Most people complain about their quads, but I couldn't pinpoint anything in particular.  Everything from my hips to my knees was locked down; my quads, IT bands, hamstrings all were useless.  My calves, however, seemed relatively unaffected.  I was so locked down that I seriously considered breaking my 6 year daily running streak.  But after walking around awards and such on Sunday, I felt loose enough to go walk/jog 3 miles in 45 minutes.  Being my first 100 miler, my expectations for recovery were tempered.  I expected the legs to hurt for a few days, and I expected them to be quite tight for a while. The first 3 days or so were pretty rough.  I just shuffled along under calf power and tried not to bend at the knees.  But two weeks out now and I am almost back to 100%.

Next up, WS100 nutrition.  I didn't spend a whole lot of time on my nutrition strategy in my race report, but pre-race I listed it as a critical component to a successful race.  I struggled with my nutrition at Quad Rock and feel it really hampered my performance in that race, so I was determined to improve on that front at WS100. My plan was to use GU Brew (the electrolyte beverage), GU Roctane drink (high calorie mix), GU gels, and then supplement with whatever looked good on the aid station tables.  I just recently started using the GU Roctane drink mix, but considering my difficulty in getting gels down lately, I figured a high-calorie drink would be a good way to get the energy I need.  I actually did pretty well getting down one gel per hour (a fraction of what some of my competitors consume, but good for me).  I used the Roctane drink when I could, but I could only refill when I saw my crew.  GU Brew was available at the aid stations, and it tasted the best of all my options, so I ended up drinking that most of the day. The only problem with that was that GU Brew has to be mixed very carefully to fully dissolve, and it is next to impossible for the aid stations to get the mix right in the large coolers, especially in the miserable weather conditions early in the race.  As a result, I never really knew how strong or weak my GU Brew was going to be, so I had to guess and supplement with Coke and salt.  

It's hard to say exactly how successful my nutrition plan turned out. After similar experiences racing above 6,000ft altitude at Quad Rock and WS100, I am now certain that the altitude bothers me, especially from the waist up.  My stomach gets queasy and I tend to feel lightheaded. That makes me not want to eat.  While I didn't feel very good in the high country, I was able to eat fairly consistently and then continue that the rest of the race.  I probably could have used a few more calories and maybe that would have smoothed out some of my low points, but it's hard to say.  A lot of folks eat more real food early in the race, but I already know that things like peanut butter and bananas don't sit well in my stomach, so I stuck mainly to gels, Coke and orange slices.  One new discovery of the race was chicken noodle soup or chicken broth of some sort.  Great stuff! But it's slow.  It takes time to get from the aid station volunteers and then time to drink, especially if it's too hot.  I was spending a lot more time at the aid stations than most of the runners around me, so I know that's one thing I'll work to improve next time, but it might be worth slowing down for some soup occasionally.



Gear.  Let's start with my shoes.  If you've been keeping up the last few months, you'll know that I was excited about the new light weight Salomon Sense and hoping I'd be able to run in them at States.  It wasn't to be though, because the low profile 4mm heel-to-toe drop was just too hard on my calves at the Memorial Training runs.  I didn't have enough time to adjust and feel comfortable in them.  I received my first pair of the XT S-Lab 5 just 3 weeks before WS100, but I knew I had a winner when I slipped them on.  They *look* heavy, but at 11.1oz they really are middle of the road.  I value comfort above all else, especially if I'm going to be running 100 miles in them.  I don't have the stack height for this shoe, but I expect it's very close to the version 4 XT which measured 9mm.  That's much more in my comfort zone, and the calves thanked me for that post-race.  They don't have as much grip as the Speedcross, but they had plenty for the WS100 course.  The shoe also has just a touch of medial support, which I actually kind of like.  If I have one complaint it's that the toe box is a bit snug, but it doesn't bother me once I start running.  The XT 5 should be available sometime this month, but you can get a great deal on the version 4 from RunningWarehouse.  It even looks like they still have a bunch of sizes in stock.  I'd scoop up a pair of those if you want to give them a try.  

The XT 5 paired nicely with a set of Swiftwick Performance 12 compression socks.  The long socks helped keep me warm in the high country and the compression was great late in the race.  All I know is my calves weren't sore at all after the race.  Although my feet stayed wet the entire day, I never changed shoes or socks.  I had a few small blisters, but that was a result of skin-on-skin friction and not sock-on-skin rubbing.  I might think about changing my shoes and socks after the river crossing if I get to run this one again.  I think I could have kept my feet dry all the way to the finish if I had done that.



I was super excited to be able to run with the new Suunto Ambit GPS and altimeter watch at Western States. Although it has an option to extended the battery life to 50 hours by compromising on the GPS accuracy, I chose to go with the most accurate setting and see when the battery ran out.  I was very impressed that the watch lasted longer than the 15 hours quoted in the specs.  It gave up on the GPS track around 15:30, but kept timing until 16:16.  For comparison, my Garmin 405 didn't make it 6 hours at Quad Rock ... granted it's a couple years old now.  Theoretically, the Ambit should be much more accurate than the Garmin 405, but it was running 4 miles short of the official course mileage when I crossed the river.  I'll reserve final judgment on its accuracy when I've had more time to test it out with a clear head (aka while not racing).

Photo by Keith Blom.

I mentioned in my race report that I started with my S-LAB 5 hydration pack, but I ditched it at Robinson Flat. I love that pack, but when you're racing up front and have as many aid stations at your disposal as we did at WS100, it's just not necessary.  If I was spending 3+ hours unsupported on the trail, that pack would be on my back without a doubt.  I love my Salomon hat as well.  I'm really picky about the way my running hats fit, but this one is is great.

If you have the time, you should check out Yassine Diboun's race report [link fixed].  He's the guy I chased down on the track.  Here are a few pics from his report to whet your appetite.

I haven't seen a great picture of myself at Emigrant Pass, but this shot of Yassine
is awesome and really captures the  extreme conditions we faced in the high country.
The catch.



Sunday, July 1, 2012

Western States: My First Buckle

My first 100 mile buckle; makes me feel like a real ultra runner.

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I chose the Western States Endurance Run as my debut 100 mile trail race. Many view WS100 as the de facto 100 mile national championship, and in recent years it has turned into an internationally competitive event, so I knew the field would be stacked. But I didn't expect to be a part of record-setting year that would see multiple course records blown away.

The many amazing performances at WS100 this year definitely overshadow my 11th place finish. It's quite tempting for me to be disappointed in how I ran, but I don't think that I should be. I think I ran a smart race. I ran conservatively to figure out the distance, to ensure that I did finish, and bring back a Western States buckle. I did not run aggressively and try to stick my nose in the race from the gun. Maybe that would have worked, or maybe not. Still, this report is a little difficult to write when so many others ran extraordinary races and I just ran well enough.


Me and my parents.  Dink would meet us later at Foresthill.

It was unseasonably cool as the race began in the pre-dawn darkness of Squaw Valley.  I had on arm warmers, a light jacket, and gloves. Very early in the first 4 mile climb, I settled in just off the lead pack full of favorites. I was worried that if I hooked onto their train, I would get sucked out too hard and redline early. Lizzie Hawker matched my pace for much of the climb, but eventually pulled away from me. I was so focused on running my own race that I forgot she was in front of me until I caught her around mile 45 just before starting the climb up Devil's Thumb!

The course profile.  18,000ft of climb and 23,000 ft of descent.

The wind was ferocious as we peaked out around 8,700ft. Then it began to sleet. The clouds were so low and thick that it was pointless to try and look down for a view of Lake Tahoe. I was too busy fighting the wind to keep my cap on my head to look for anything anyway. Ryan Burch, who trounced me at Quad Rock 50 just a few weeks ago, crested the climb in front of me and disappeared down the other side of the mountain. I searched for the trail markings to make sure I was on course, then pushed the pace to catch Burch just to have someone to run with. We kept the pace quite relaxed and let several folks pass us by without a fight.

After several miles of technical running, the trail transitioned to a flat jeep road and I decided to take advantage of my road strength and pick up the pace. But I just didn't feel like my normal self, and the road didn't stay flat for long. I struggled all morning long in the high country. I was forced to walk even the short climbs to keep my heart rate from spiking.  I'd get passed on the ups, then catch back up on the descents. I eventually hooked back up with Burch and used him to help even out my pacing.  I struggled with queasiness and lightheadedness until I left the high country.

Following Ryan Burch at Duncan Canyon.
(photo by Keith Blom)

It was freezing cold at Robinson Flat (mile 30) when I first saw my parents and pacer Dink Taylor.  The sleet had turned to rain which soaked my gloves. My hands were so cold they hurt worse than any other part of my body. Luckily I had a change of gloves in my bag. I ditched my S-LAB hydration pack because it wasn't hot enough to make it worth carrying the additional water. I headed out hopeful that the weather would soon clear as I dropped out of the high country and I'd be able to warm up.

Starting to warm up.  (Photo by Dusty Davis)

The miles that lead up to the canyons are one section that I should have been able to move forward, but my stomach was holding me back. In my entire running career, I have NEVER vomited as a result of running. I have also never been as close to vomiting as I was on the Pucker Point trail. I should have been flying on this section but I had to stop and walk a couple times to hang onto my lunch. I made it to Last Chance and weighed in a pound higher than my start weight even though I had been several pounds low at the first weigh station. I immediately popped 2 salt tabs and had some chicken soup thinking I needed more salt.  That seemed to help and a short time later I felt much better.

Oddly enough, my climb up Devil's Thumb was one of the best parts of my race. I finally was warmed up to comfortable, my stomach had settled, and my head cleared. I powered up to the top with renewed confidence. I probably should have saved a little more for the next climb up Michigan Bluff, but I still feel like I climbed fairly well on the second big climb. I continued feeling strong as I rolled into Foresthill at mile 62 and picked up Dink.

Coming through Michigan Bluff.  (Photo by iRunFar.com)

Climbing up to Foresthill.  (Photo by Dusty Davis)

My confidence was high and I was thinking I'd be able to catch some folks over the last 38 miles. Dink encouraged me to keep the pace in check and not get too excited leaving Foresthill. I thought I heeded his advice, but shortly after leaving Dardanelles' aid station, I hit an extended low point. I just couldn't go. I knew to expect the high and low points in a 100, but this wasn't going anywhere. I struggled until just before the river crossing at 78 miles. The boat crossing was uneventful and I wasn't even hot enough to feel like I needed to get my whole body wet in the river.

Just after picking up Dink at Foresthill.
(Photo by Ultra Runner Podcast)

I ran maybe 5% of the two mile climb to Green Gate. I wish I had run it slowly, but therein lies the problem. I just don't feel comfortable or efficient running uphill at 9-10 min per mile pace. Walking, however, gave me a chance to recover a bit and collect myself. Just as I was leaving the Green Gate aid station Dink lets me know that a female had just arrived. We weren't sure who it was at the time. That lit a small fire under my butt and got my head back in the game. I ran well for a while, but I was still struggling on the small climbs and felt like I needed to walk many of them.

I ran alone until mile 90 when Zach Bitter came blasting through Brown's Bar without stopping. I hadn't seen him since Devil's Thumb, but he was moving so fast, I didn't even attempt to respond. That took a little wind out of my sails, and then I struggled on the climb up to the Highway 49 aid station (93.5 miles). I had hoped a few of the top guys would drop or fade because of the brisk pace early, but only Mike Wolfe would come back to me. I passed him in this section as he was gutting out a finish. Contrary to what the webcast would lead you to believe, I arrived at Hwy 49 ahead of Tom Crawford and Ellie Greenwood. But neither were very far behind, and when I heard Ellie's name being announced, I grabbed my bottle and took off. This gave me the little shot of adrenaline that I needed to run the climb out of the aid station. It was now dark, so Dink and I pulled out our headlamps and I ran for my life.

I was totally surprised to see Zach Bitter again on the dark run into No Hands Bridge (96.8 mi). He had pushed too early and was now crashing hard. I passed with ease and got another little boost. At No Hands Bridge, I grabbed a quick cup of coke and ditched my water bottle. I was still looking over my shoulder, waiting on Ellie, and thinking about the To Be Chicked article she wrote for iRunFar.com just a week ago.

That last 3.5 miles were arguably my best miles of the race. I knew the finish was getting close and felt I could push through the pain for just a few more minutes.  I was able to run most of the the climb up to Robie Point. As I approached the aid station, I could hear cheering and announcing over the loud speaker. I was told at No Hands that I was 7 minutes behind the next runner, so I didn't expect to be catching anyone, but it seemed as though I was. The trail dumped me out on the paced streets of Auburn, CA and I picked up the pace looking for the party at the very top of the Robie Point. They get my vote for best aid station, even though it wasn't a real aid station. They cheered the loudest and gave me my biggest boost of the day. I was in full stride for the first time in hours.

Soon I could see a headlamp less than a minute ahead of me. Dink says, "Well, you can relax and enjoy your run into the finish, or we can try to catch him." Do you really have to ask? I had to try. I didn't know what place I was in, but thought I might be in 11th and desperately wanted the 10th position to get the automatic entry for next year. Plus, I hadn't had a chance to break out my leg speed all day. Yassine Diboun still had 10 seconds or so on me as I entered the track, but he had no clue I was coming. I passed with less than 200m to go and crossed the line just 6 seconds ahead of him in 16:42:55. Only then did I find out that I had finished in 11th place.

Done.  (Photo by iRunFar.com)


Ellie would finish just a few minutes later, destroying the women's course record that was one of the most revered records in our sport. And the men's course record was broken nearly two hours before I crossed the finish line by Timothy Olson. Amazing work by both of them.

I won't lie. 11th place hurts. Just one place better would have secured my entry into Western States for next year. Now I have to earn it again -- certainly not a given. But when I objectively look past the fact this was the worst finish in my ultra career I can only conclude that I ran really well. 16:43 in my debut 100 miler at Western States? I don't think there are too many folks that can claim that. Everyone in front of me had run at least one 100 miler and has access to mountainous terrain to train on. Even so, I know it wasn't perfect. But I know where I was weak. I struggled with the altitude. I struggled with the climbs. I know I can do better. This is what keeps me coming back. It's not just the end goal, but the journey that I love. This never-ending quest to be the best I can possibly be is one of the many things that I have always loved about running. I'll be back, and I'll be stronger than before.


If your feet don't look this good the day after running a 100 miles,
maybe you should be wearing Swiftwick socks!

I finally got to see Lake Tahoe on the flight home.




Saturday, June 16, 2012

One Week to Western States

I've decided to keep updating this post throughout the week as I have more to share.

Race coverage: 
Live Webcast during the race
Twitter Feed for #WS100
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6/22/2012

Not much more to be said.  I'm as ready as I'm going to get.

I just came across some last minute motivation.  iRunFar.com posted the group think predictions from their prediction contest.  The masses have me pegged at 11th.  I want to be top 10.

3AM wakeup call.  5AM PDT start.  That means 8AM for you folks on the east coast.  Check the links above for the live webcast and look for @iRunFar on twitter to follow the race.

Wish me luck. 

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6/21/2012

Sorry I didn't post yesterday.  I was just too busy packing after a regular workday to have time to update the blog.  No big deal, I didn't have much to say anyway.

But, I'm in Squaw now...well, staying in Truckee actually.

At the starting line.  The mountains look really big.
So, my travel went as planned today, but my parents who are coming out to crew for me had some issues and arrived in Sacramento about 8 hours later than scheduled.  I went ahead and drove out to Squaw though.  And on the way, I stopped at Drivers Flat (near the WS course a few miles from Auburn, CA) to do my little shakeout run for the day.  Everything felt really good.  I've been really nervous all week planning and packing, but as soon as I set foot on the trail I had a sense of peace.

From there, I headed to Truckee but the traffic was a nightmare for reasons I don't understand, so I diverted and went straight to Squaw to hear the expert panel discussion.  Got some good advice, said hi to a few friends, and just oriented myself with the starting area.  Afterward, I headed back toward my hotel in Truckee and stopped at a burger joint for dinner.  Not a fast food burger place, but a nice burger place where you can get avocado as a topping and a side of sweet potato fries.  Plus, I ran into WSER President John Trent while I was there, so it must be the place to eat 2 nights before the race.

Everything's good.  Weather feels great.  Legs feel great.  And hopefully I can get a good night of sleep.  Check-in and medical evaluations are tomorrow.

Just get me there!

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6/19/2012
Today I put in another 5 miles that included a mini 4x800m workout just to keep the legs feeling sharp. Everything is feeling good, I just can't wait to start running.  Speaking of starting to run, want to see some video from the first 30 miles of the course?


So, I'm ready to start talking about the weather now.  It was hot today again in Cincinnati, but it doesn't look like I really need the heat training anymore.


If that forecast holds it will be the 2nd coolest day in the history of the race.  I know some people would like to see it really hot to make things interesting, but I have a feeling that a really cool race could be quite exciting as well.  I wouldn't be surprised to see some folks adjust their strategy a little bit and the finish times could be really fast.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Even if the heat is not as bad as usual, there are plenty more factors that I will need to figure out to run well in my first 100 miler.

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6/18/2012
The weather here in Cincinnati is getting quite toasty, and I finally feel like I'm starting to acclimate to the heat.  Or maybe I'm just not running far enough this deep into my taper to really feel the effects. Who knows?  But if the current forecast holds for Auburn, CA then the heat may not be a huge concern anymore.  I'm not going to say anything else, because I don't want to jinx us.

I had a good run yesterday and got caught in a torrential downpour during the last mile.  That's always fun and refreshing this time of year.  I just did 5 miles really easy today at lunch and felt good even though is was warm and muggy.

Most of you reading this probably already know by now, but an accomplished ski mountaineer, Stephane Brosse, was killed in a fall this past weekend while attempting to cross Mont Blanc with Kilian Jornet.  Kilian was the Western States champion last year and was the clear favorite again this year.  As a result of the tragedy though, Kilian will not be racing WS100 as he mourns the loss of his friend.  Please keep Stephane's family and friends in your thoughts and prayers in this difficult time.

With Miguel Heras announcing he's going to miss the race due to injury, and now Kilian being out under tragic circumstances, that leaves Ryan Sandes as the only Salomon international team athlete that will be competing as WS100.  The US contingent for Salomon is going to have to really step it up now.  Keep your eye out for Aliza Lapierre, Jorge Maravilla, and myself.

One other bit of news that you might be interested in is my pacer situation.  Some of you may have heard that Andy Henshaw was planning to pace for me, but he had to back out a couple of weeks ago due to a nagging injury.  Luckily, I had already recruited Dink Taylor to help my parents crew for me.  Dink's in great shape right now, is an experienced Western States runner, and jumped at the opportunity to run the last 38 miles with me.  Hopefully we can make it interesting.

Stay tuned...

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6/16/2012
We're a week out from Western States today.  I don't really have a lot to say, but I thought I'd do a quick post to let you know how things are going.

After the Western States training runs I did one more long run the following weekend.  I jumped in a local 50k that I've done the past two years.  It's mostly trail, but very flat and not technical.  Plus, Another Dam 50k is also a 4 loop course, so it was a great place to get in a supported long run.  I kept the pace really relaxed the first couple loops, making sure to stick to my plan and not get caught up in the race.  I picked it up a bit the last two laps, but never caught the leader, and was able to go straight into an additional lap.  It wasn't hot enough to really get in any heat training, but I was happy with my 38 miles for the day.  And in the 8 day period that included the WS training camp and AD50k I ran 163 miles.

After AD50k, I immediately went into my 3 week taper leading up to Western States.  It's tempting to want to sneak in some last minute hill training, and I heard a bunch of folks were also hitting the sauna to get some heat acclimatization.  But, on the advice of some very experienced ultra runners, I decided to shut it down, avoid the sauna, and just let the body get completely recovered.  

After a week of tapering, I expected to feel great on a little trail tempo run to keep the legs loose, but I didn't.  I actually felt awful.  I felt sluggish and the legs had absolutely no pop on the (small) climbs.  That seems to happen quite often during my tapers, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow when it does occur.  If I've been resting a week, I think my legs should feel good.  But the more times I go through this process, the more I realize that it takes more than a week.  I think this is because the taper period usually follows a very tough phase of training, as was the case this time.

But, a bad run like that allows doubts to creep into the mind, and I didn't want that hanging over me heading into the race.  So last Wednesday, after a few more days of recovery, I went back to my favorite trails and tried again.  Much better this time.  I felt great, and was climbing as well as I ever have before.  I just had to try the workout again to keep my confidence high going into Western States.

I'm really shutting down the mileage this week, but I'll keep a little of the intensity just to keep the legs feeling fresh.  Mother nature is providing some free heat training in Cincinnati this weekend with high temperatures around 90 degrees.  I'll be heading to California Thursday morning.  Wish me luck!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Western States Training Camp



To give myself every possible opportunity to be successfully at the Western States Endurance Run, and especially since this is my first attempt at a 100 mile race, I chose to spend Memorial Day weekend at training camp.  The WSER training camp is an organized event where runners can preview 70 miles of the course over this 3 day period.  Aid stations and bus service are provided to participants at a minimal cost. For someone who has never seen the course, and has virtually no ability to train on terrain that even remotely resembles the WS100 course, the training runs can be incredibly helpful.  In fact, the training camp and the Quad Rock 50 miler I did just over 2 weeks ago is the only highly-specific training that I will be able to do before Western States.

First, let me share a little background info on the race and the course for those that are unfamiliar.  The 100 mile trail race will be held Saturday, June 23rd in the Sierra Mountains between Reno, NV and Sacramento, CA.  The 18,000ft of climb that runners face on race day will be difficult, but there is even more descent in total and that aspect of the race wreaks havoc on almost everyone's quads.  The weather also plays a huge role in this race because it can be freezing with snow on the ground at the start, but the canyons can be over 110 deg F in the afternoon.  The course is roughly divided into 4 parts.  The oxygen-sparse high country is the first 30 miles of the race after starting in Squaw Valley and peaking out around 8,750 ft in elevation.  Then comes the tough canyons sections from Robinson Flat at mile 30 to Foresthill at mile 62.  Next is Cal St, a much more runnable section of trail (if your quads are still working properly) down to the Rucky Chucky crossing of the American River.  And then finally, from the river crossing at mile 78 to the finish is another very runnable section if you still have legs.  At training camp we were able to run the last 3 sections of the course.




On the first day, we met at Foresthill Elementary school, loaded up on school buses, and took a 1 hour ride to Robinson Flat (mile 30).  There was a light dusting of snow on the ground above 6,000ft and it was chilly enough that I had on gloves, arm sleeves, and a light jacket.  When I exited the bus, I started looking around for some familiar faces, but I knew very few people and there were probably several hundred runners streaming toward the trailhead.  By the time I took a few pictures and got ready to run, I decided it was unlikely that I'd find someone to run with.  So I headed for the single track.  The first couple miles was VERY slow going.  I didn't realize how many slower runners I had gotten caught behind.  We were crawling.  My first mile split was 18 minutes.  The trail was narrow and the line of runners was very long, but I eventually picked my way through.  After a few miles, the trail opened up to a fire road and I took off looking for someone running around my pace.

I got sucked into running fast on the gradual downhill just like I DON'T want to do on race day.  But this allowed me to catch Salomon teammate Jorge Maravilla and Victor Ballesteros just after the Dusty Corners aid station.  My pace cooled as we instantly fell into good conversation.  So good in fact, that we missed a turn back onto a single track trail and were 2 miles down the road before we realized our mistake.  It was easily corrected though and we turned around to return to the proper course.  Of course, now I'm behind all the people I was stuck behind at the beginning.  But everyone was more spread out now and most people were willing to let us pass.  I ran with Jorge and Victor for a while, but I kept going when they stop to chat with some slower runners.  I wanted to test myself a little on the big descents into the canyons.

Pretty sure we ended up way down there.

5 runners = 3 horses?



The rest of the day was mostly uneventful as I pushed through on my own.  The descents were fun and the climbs up Devil's Thumb and Michigan Bluff were tough.  The small climb up to Foresthill School surprised me a bit, but I shut it down when I ran into Aliza Lapierre (Salomon), Rory Bosio, and Paul Terranova.  I ended the day with 36 miles in 5:39 with 12,000' of descent and 8,500' of climb.  

The second day, we ran from Foresthill to the Rucky Chucky under near perfect weather conditions.  From Rucky Chucky, the official plan was to climb out 3 miles to a staging area where buses would pick up the runners and take us back to Foresthill.  I started with a big group and got some great course advice from veteran Scott Wolfe.  After the first big descent of 4 miles, Scott stopped to run with the fast ladies and I was on my own.  The Cal St. section is much more runnable than the previous day, so I naturally got into rhythm on this section.  I reached Rucky Chucky at 15.5 miles in just two hours.  It was going to take me no more than 30 minutes to climb out, and then I would have had to wait an hour for the first bus back to Foresthill.  So I just decided to run back on the trail.  This was a little risky because I would have to go 15.5 miles with no aid stations as the weather was heating up.  Plus, I would be climbing a significant amount on the return trip.  I made it back in 2:26 with no real issues, but I did run dry a couple miles out.  I tallied 31 miles on the day with about 13,000' of total elevation change.  Then I drove back down to the bus stop/aid station so I could get a hot dog and Coke.



The fast kids.

On Sunday evening, iRunFar and Montrail sponsored a panel discussion and dinner at a local community center.  I won't go into detail about it here because it was all video taped and will be shared on the web soon if you're interested in what was said there.  It was cool to hang out with a bunch of Western States legends and put names with faces.  I didn't learn anything race-changing, but there were many good reminders.  The hard part will be following their advice on race day.

On the third and final day, I was 19 miles ahead of schedule for the weekend, so I decided to relax a little and just enjoy the run.  Jorge and I hooked back up and spent the whole morning together.  This was another gorgeous and runnable section of trail.  I hope to have some legs left when I reach this section during the race.  I will say the last climb to the finish at Placer High School was kind of tough.  I imagine that it's going to be incredibly tough at mile 97 of the race.  22 miles in 3:07 for the day.


Jorge and myself at No Hands Bridge.

Sweet gear.

It was a great weekend and well worth my time.  It's so hard to put a course into perspective until you've run it. The training camp really helped me understand what I'll have to face on race day.  The names of the aid stations have so much more meaning now that I've run through most of them.  Plus, I got in some great training that I wouldn't have been able to do at home.  And I met so many great people who are also passionate about this crazy sport.

I can't wait to do it all again in less than 4 weeks.

This is the goal.  My final destination.


Addendum

Decisions, decisions.

In my haste to get this post out the door last night, I left out a few details which I think are important…like how I felt or what shoes I wore.  And those two things are actually quite related.  I was excited to finally receive a pair of the Salomon Sense just a few weeks ago.  But because their minimalist 4mm heel-to-toe drop is much lower than I'm used to running in, I knew I would need some time to adjust.  Over the last couple weeks, I’d run in them enough to feel comfortable testing them out on the course this weekend, so that’s what I did.  I spent all of Saturday and again on Monday in the Sense, but switched back to my Speedcross (I raced QR50 and LBL50 in these) to give the legs a break on Sunday.  Overall, my legs felt really good, but my calves definitely noticed the lower profile of the Sense.  My quads seems to handle the descents really well, even though I pushed them on Saturday playing catch-up.  The Sense is a fantastic shoe.  I’m just not sure my calves are ready to handle a 100 mile race in them yet.  I was considering  several options, one being to start in my Speedcross and switch into the Sense at Foresthill.  But when I returned home from California, Salomon had a brand new pair of the S-LAB 5 XT Wings waiting for me on the doorstep.  I had never tried this shoe, and honestly didn’t have very high expectations (I was more excited about the Missions in the box as well), but they felt great as soon as I slipped the pair on my feet.  I was so impressed in fact, that I opted to do an 8 mile run in them that afternoon.  I want to spend some more time in them before States, but the XT Wings could be the middle ground that I’ve been looking for between the Speedcross and Sense.  I probably wouldn’t plan to change this shoe during WS if it’s the one I decide to use.  

By the way, I'm really pleased with how the legs are feeling two days after the training runs.  My calves are still pretty useless, and the legs feel tired in general, but nothing else is even sore.  I hope that's a good sign leading into the race.