Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Back from the Dead

Quad Rock 50 Race Report

Although I didn't win the race, I came home with some goodies.

I knew it would be different. I knew it was going to be hard. As best I could, I attempted to imagine how tough Quad Rock would be before I started the race. But I couldn't fully comprehend the difficulty until I experienced it. Even so, it served it's purpose. I gained a sense of perspective that I didn't previously have. I learned a ton about myself, about running in the mountains, and about what I need to do to be successful at Western States. So I guess I have to declare it a success even though I was not even close to the winner.

This race was full of firsts for me. My first time racing above 2,000 ft in elevation...the elevation ranged from 5,000-7,000 ft. My first race starting in the dark and using a headlamp. My first ultra west of the Mississippi. And at least 6,000 ft more climbing and an equal amount of descent more than I'd ever run in a race. I sound like a rookie.

Although locals reported it was 85 degrees on Thursday, it was probably 45 degrees at the race start and was even colder on top of the mountain. At least the heat was not another factor that I had to worry about. As the race began in the chilly, pre-dawn darkness, I tried to settle in to a comfortable pace in about 10th place among both 25 miler and 50 mile competitors. I was carrying my headlamp in my hand since I'd only need it for about 20 minutes, and I concentrated on not falling and embarrassing myself over the first couple miles of non-technical trail. At 4 miles the climbing started. I would be either climbing or descending for the next 42 miles until I hit this point on the course again on the reverse trip.

The is the elevation profile compared to StumpJump 50k.

I was with Ryan Burch at the top of the first climb and feeling OK. I was told he was probably the guy to watch, but I wasn't going to try and chase him on the descents because he would fly down and my quads weren't conditioned for that. Sure enough, he bombed the first descent and left me. I chose to be conservative as instructed, but I don't think even Burch could have maintained that kind of pace descending late in the race. At the bottom of the descent we reached our drop bags and I took some time to take off my jacket. Burch was already long gone.

I knew my stomach was not in a good place very early. I struggled to get down a gel before the race even started, gagging on just a partial squeeze. I had some GI distress the day before and it seemed that my stomach still hadn't quite settled. Some of this was probably due to nerves, but it's hard to say how much, although I'm fairly sure it wasn't all nerves. So, I'm running along and not eating like I should have been.

Nutrition is a funny thing. I know that I have to eat, or I'm going to die.  And yet, I can't force myself to eat because it would come right back up. Hindsight may normally be just 20/20, but I think it's better than that when looking back at your ultras. I probably should have stopped for a few minutes early in the race and figured out what I could eat. But it's really hard to do that when you're in contact with the leaders and want to stay there. To make matters worse, the cool temperatures made me feel like I didn't need to drink very much, so I wasn't even getting normal calories from the GU Brew that I was carrying in my hand held. I usually drink coke when the gels aren't working, but I wasn't even doing that. I was doing everything wrong.

Although I hadn't been eating, I was still feeling pretty good after the 2nd climb of six total.  But as I crested the 3rd climb around the 3 hour mark, I was quickly running out of fuel. I was sluggish on the mild descent to the turn around point and knew I was in trouble. As I made the turn at 25 miles to run the course in reverse, I was in 3rd place and about 10 minutes back from Burch who was still leading. I had no power on the climb and hiked much of it. My hamstrings, glutes, and lower back were totally shutting down. After another lethargic descent dropping me to 5th place, I stopped at the mile 32.4 aid station, only having consumed 2 gels in 5 hours of racing.  

As the crow flies, it was only two miles from the start/finish, so it was the logical place to drop. I sat down and had Dylan Bowman try to call Ian Torrence (one of my coaches) to see if he thought I should drop out. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the cell phone reception was poor and we couldn't get through to Ian. I sat and stretched, rejecting every offer from the very helpful aid station volunteers that were trying to help me. Eventually, I ate an orange section. And then I started feeling hungry. Mark that as another first...the first time I've ever actually had an appetite in any race. I think I ate about 5 more orange sections.  

After hanging around the aid station for 10 minutes, I decided to hike the next climb and see what happened. I left the aid station just as sixth place was coming in. I hiked almost the entire climb and it probably took me an hour. My Garmin went bonkers at this point, so the details are a little foggy.  I had absolutely no power to climb, but I was feeling better otherwise. I was even able to take a gel with no problems. I made it to the aid station at the top and ate more orange sections. Again, I was just heading out as 6th place arrived.

The mountains were shrouded in clouds most of the time I was there.

Anything flat or downhill I could run, but even the slightest uphill I was hiking. It was strange because I had recovered enough to run downhill quite fast. My quads seemingly weren't affected too much by the descents like everyone had warned me they would be. So I hammered down to the aid station at 10 miles to go. My energy was back, and I was even getting my head back in the race thinking I might be able to catch someone over the last 7.2 mile descent if I could just survive the next climb.

I was forced to hike once again on the final climb, and it felt like it took forever. Once I crested, I had some more oranges and was off. I screamed down the fire road thinking I might still have a chance to break 8 hours. I ran well those last few miles, but came up a little short of my new 8 hour goal. I crossed in 5th place at 8:03.

For much of the race, I was not in a good place mentally. But I'm really proud that I was able to address my issues, turn my race around, and finish respectably. I've read that problem solving is one of the keys to finishing well at Western States. Hopefully this experience will give me confidence that I can tackle obstacles on the fly. I learned many other things as well. I've known nutrition is important, but I keep needing to be reminded how important. I've got to get this figured out before States or I'm toast. I learned I'm not a great climber, but I also think my nutrition problems and running the 100k just 3 weeks before QR hurt my climbing ability significantly. On the positive side, I was really pleased with how well I handled the descents, and I'm optimistic that will translate well to Western States.

And finally, you know what else I learned?  How to put on a heck of a race. Nick Clark and Pete Stevenson did an absolutely fantastic job directing Quad Rock in its inaugural year. Their attention to detail was meticulous. It was obvious that veteran ultra runners were running the show. When I direct a race one day, I'm going to do my best to follow their example. I think Quad Rock will quickly become a very popular race.

So while I feel like I could have run a lot better, it really was a pretty good day.  I learned a ton and met a bunch of really cool folks. Contrary to popular belief, it's not just running.

Full results here.

On my shakeout run the day before the race.

Quick gear review:
Shoes - Salomon Speedcross 3.  The best compliment I can pay them is that I didn't even think about them the whole race.  Traction was more than adequate and my feet felt great afterward.
Socks - Swiftwick Vibe One.  Zip, zero, zilch a 50 mile race with 22,000ft of elevation change.  Wow.
Hydration pack - Salomon S-Lab 5. This was kind of a trial run and my first time wearing a hydration pack.  I found that it stays glued to my back and didn't bother me the whole race. I really liked being able to carry all my gels, powders and salt tabs on my person especially since I didn't have a crew. Although the bladder was filled with water, I actually didn't drink from it very much. I found that I just prefer drinking from my hand held bottle.
Shorts - Salomon EXO Motion short.  I was skeptical about these shorts at first, but they've definitely grown on me.  No chaffing or any other problems.  I'll be wearing them again.


  1. Great to meet you! Much respect for stepping out of your comfort zone and racing the hills of CO. Continue to work through any race low- find what it takes to finish and you will rebound. See you at States!

  2. you are an inspiration, really.. Amazing job turning the race around..
    What is that watch btw? I don't recognize it as a Garmin although that's what you called it.

  3. Fadi, the watch in the picture is not the Garmin 405 I wore during the race. The watch in the picture was a prize for being 2nd place in the "open" division. It is the Highgear Axio HR which has a barometer, alitimeter and HR monitor built in. It's capable of very accurate altitude measurements because of the barometer.

  4. nice prize! i think Tony Krupica wears something similar.. (I'm a nerd, i like those little gadgets despite being the most mediocre runner.. EVER)