Friday, April 22, 2011

Miwok 100k, Montrail Cup, etc

Next up for me in two weeks is the Miwok 100K, one of my faves and right in my soon-to-be backyard, as we are moving back to the Bay Area next week. I love this race!! Ever have races that you keep going back to where you feel like things just click ?
62.4 miles (note that this is over 100K) is a long frickin' way. It's like driving from Boulder to Colorado Springs on I-25, and the thought of having to run this makes me nauseous. A few years ago I would pop in the car at the drop of a hat to train on Pikes Peak. But to run on thatdrive? Ughh..
The only difference between I-25 and Miwok are the surface underfoot and about 10K vertical feet of climb and descent, as well as all the attendant race-day circumstances, friends, banners, glory, bbq, etc. But the biggest real difference is simply running through the woods and fields of the Headlands, the best place to get lost and forget about how far you have to go, much like the Colorado mountains. Under these circumstances and in these places, you can finish these incredible distances with MORE energy than when you started. I have competed in so many races, including 5 day adventure races, where the next day I've felt more alive, refreshed, invigorated than before the gun went off. I am not sure why this happens given the huge distances traveled over gnarly terrain with minimal resources. Is it massive releases of anti-oxidants? Is it excessive fresh sea-level air? Thin mountain air?
Then there are the few races when I feel like a Mack truck just ran me over the day after. Primal Quest 2006 in the seven-day summer desert heat of Utah and Western States in 2009 come to mind; coming into WS immunocompromised didn't help, and PQ '06 was simply hard-core suffer-fest of atronomical proportions (like running 1000 miles of WS.. without water.)
Any way I look at it, long trail running gives back much more back than it takes...most of the time.

So I will run Miwok... if this goes well then I will be primed to finish the Montrail Cup series of four required races, which has $5000 for the first place series win. I didn't start the season aiming to run this series, and didn't even want to run Miwok. As for Bandera 100k I planned to race only because it was an excellent early season race that Geoff, Tony, and others planned on racing and I wanted a piece of the action. Winning Bandera gave me Montrail Cup points, but the anticipated elite competition didn't happen. For AR 50 I wanted redemption to better my time from two years ago and I was in Cali anyway, so those Cup points more or less materialized naturally. Now school starts and I can only race locally, which lends Miwok 100k and WS to align well... may as well finish the series.

Next year, I am need to run some new races. It is my clinical year of school, so who knows where I will be or what level of training will happen. I have run so much in California and need a change of pace. It's where I've lived so it makes sense to race in CA, but I also live in Colorado half time, miss racing the high stuff. Never ran Leadville, HR, been years since I ran at San Juan Solstice and Collegiate Peaks, but have run Pikes recently and the Greenland (CO) trail races.

I said I was going to post my splits for the American River 50, but they unintentionally were deleted from my watch database. I am bummed about this I know runners try to find the elites' splits from prior years to pace themselves, and I like to look back and compare my times to current performances. All I can offer is though is this link, which has some interesting stuff.

The data regarding the second half of the race shows who ran smart the first half. For example, the women's winner, Ellie Greenwood, ran the second half (3:16:38) faster than many of the guys who finished in front of her. So in a longer race it is possible that she would have passed these guys. Perhaps not though, because the guys would have likely paced differently in a longer race.
I hope most racers can learn from these splits and apply them in future years. As proved time and time again, we all go out too fast in ultras.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

American River 50 race report

Two years ago, I had run a disappointing AR 50, in my mind at least. Even though I was second that year, I’d had high aspirations for a sub 5:40 time. It turns out this was the year the course was measured short and recalibrated to the current accurate 50 mile distance, so given this, 5:40 wasn’t reasonable. Last season I wasn’t running much two thirds of the year, so AR 50 wasn’t even in the cards. This year, now that I’d had at least some training and some races in the late fall and January’s Bandera 100K, I decided it would be a fine opportunity to better my effort from two years prior.

The dark 6 am start and subsequent 50 miles went exactly as I had anticipated, with some mild rabbiting to 26.2 and the ole wily tortoise (me) catching in the end. My goal was to run comfortably through the marathon and then ramp things up from there. I had splits based roughly on prior years wins, which would get me to 26.2 in 2:46. I knew that Jason Loutthit had some fast 5 K times and some recent ultra experience, but guessed he’d go out fast. I also thought Ian Sharman would follow suit with Jason, given his road experience and leg speed.

The first couple miles was a pack of guys in the dark, including the above two speedsters, plus Nick Clark and Scott Jaime and one other guy. I stuck with about a 6:20 pace right from the start, while Jason, Ian, Nick, and the other guy were out of sight after mile two. The first 20 miles or so are sweet paved bike path (as good as paved can get I guess), with maybe 10% of just-off-the-hardtop-edge running on dirt, which is still “legal” as it parallels the path. This “dirt finding” doesn’t help too much in the end, but gives a mental running surface break. As always, most of my thoughts were on running point to point tangents, eating and drinking and popping occasional pills, and wondering if I should stop to take a dump. I focused on my own game, but happened to match paces with Scott Jaime and Nick Clark, who I ran near for most of first 20 miles.

After five miles of fighting it the inconvenience of stopping, I pit stopped for 30 seconds at a portopotty, and instantly felt faster. It is sooo worth making these stops, as I easily go 15-20 seconds per mile faster. It’s not like I lose pounds of baggage, but it just feels good maybe because less blood flow goes to the GI tract. Anyway. it pays off to dump off!

I felt fine and comfy through the marathon, besides a couple upper GI cramps around mile 23. This was likely because I was eating and drinking a lot, even though the temps were cool and would stay so. I have found that in 50 mile to 100K races, if I fuel heavily early it can carry me through the second half of races without having to play too much catch up in the later stages. But by doing so, I actually choose to create potential GI problems early in the race, but I would rather stuff my stomach earlier rather than later, when it would be far too late to intake gels, water, electrolytes, etc. I can’t even remember the last time I bonked using this strategy, except for Western States in 09, when everything shut down due to heat and a flu bug.

So all told I ate two Clif Shots before the start, and then two per hour, or a few more, through the race. I also preventatively ate Advil (thanks Craig Thornley and Megan Arbogast) before the start and one per hour after that..about 1200 mg total. (I completely disagree the research that says NSAIDS don’t help ultrarunning; works for me as long as I keep overall amounts moderate. Potential toxicity and GI ulcers are real hazards so watch yourself!) I also ate four saltines and a handful of cheezits to supplement the Clif Shots and two ClifBlok packs. I also ate maybe a dozen S-Caps, and drank half water/Gu2O mix from the aid stations. No fats and protein this time around.

I think the biggest difference in this race was my footwear. The Hoka One One Bondi B were designed perfectly for this tough course; I came off the pavement at mile 28 and still had fresh enough legs to hang in the second half. The shoe is designed for road running but handles well on most any dirt surface, as long as it isn’t slick clay (where nothing really performs anyway).

Anyway, back to the race..I came through the marathon banner in 2:48, about 30 seconds after Ian. Jason had come through in 2:56, and maybe gained 2 more minute before mile 28 at Beals Point aid station, giving him a ten minute lead. So out of Beals point, the race goes quickly to lovely dirt singletrack for 90% of the remainder of the race. I loved running this last section!! It had rained tons in the spring, so the soil was damp enough to be slightly tacky underfoot with little loose sand, providing good push off and traction. It was cool and in the 50s and 60s, with lots of shady sections. There were tons of mud puddles, but not too many too big that I couldn’t dance around the edges or jump to avoid getting wet. There were a couple reroutes around felled trees, but nothing too annoying to slow things too much. The undulating singletrack of this part of the AR 50 is fun and rocky in sections, with plenty of contours to pick up the leg speed for long sections and cruise at 6:30 pace. I felt light years different from two years ago, when I wore running flats and trashed myself, then had nothing in the tank going onto this dirt. I felt there were very few occasions, except for the epic three mile hill at the end, when I couldn’t have accelerated if Jason, Ian, or Nick had come out of nowhere. I was going for the win and nothing more, and had way more fun in the last half than the first.

After Beals Pt mile 28, I passed Ian about a mile out, while he was off investigating the bushy scrubbery. For eight miles after I had varying reports of how close Jason was. Greg Soderlund said Jason had three minutes on me at one aid station, then a mile later a jogger stated he was only one minute ahead. I was surprised to find at Buzzards Cove that he had a four minute lead on me, as I thought I was cruising pretty good. Finally, at mile 38 I passed Jason on a gentle hill. He was still moving well, yet didn’t accelerate as I passed, so I thought there could be a chance of him catching me if he rebounded. I also had no idea where Ian or Nick were lurking, and didn’t write them off in the least. I therefore resigned myself to “running scared” the remaining 12 miles of the race.

I actually like running with the fear factor in ultras. It keeps me on my toes and really tests the ability to self motivate, whereas when you are racing with others they tend to push you from without and pace off others, which actually can detract from a better overall finish time. I only walked two sections of the rest of the race; one short steep single track section, and about 100 meters of the beginning of the three mile dirt road finish.

I finally started to “feel the ultra love/pain” about half way up the last hill, and started dogging it a bit. I still ran this last three miles in just under 26 minutes, which is just over eight minute miles (if the mileage is correct), so I wasn’t crashing too hard. I came into the finish in just over 5:55 and was super-happy to have won this west coast ultra classic. Five minutes later Jason came busting around the corner to just break six hours by five seconds, with Nick and Ian within 30 seconds of that. I surely didn’t envy being in that epic battle for second place!

I will post my splits when I can find my race watch..

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Back to AR 50!

Man, I have just come out of one of my rocks from the past few months, but am finally back out with my turtle head poked out and ready to climb out and run a couple of races. I had a block of exams the past 5 weeks which took most of my energy, and am glad they ae over. It will be an awesome month with AR 50 this weekend and Miwok exactly four weeks later, and I am psyched for the time proximity of these running classics. I havent raced since January 8th, so 3 months out is a long time to not get a good thrashing at the hands/feet of the trails.
I am happy to run AR 50 again. Two years ago I didnt train on pavement and had a bad race in running a 6:12. This year may be different as I have better footwear and 80% of my miles have been paved the past 6 weeks. Should be able to better this time easily.
Even though my training has been relatively low the past three months, I have focused on quality half marathon workouts that leave me tired enough to sit alot and focus on school and sleep well, yet not enough realistically to be considered real ultra training. The longest I have run is 2 hours at one time, yet I have been consistent and healthy, which makes up for the paucity of miles. I feel going into two hard races being slightly undertrained is unconventional, yet I know I have the recovery reserves in the tank to handle it and come out no worse for wear. I am supposed to run WS 100 in June, which is still uncertain, as I will need to train a few long runs in late May and first week of JUne; PA school and my family rank higher on the list so we will see. I have eked out good races before, but I aint no spring chicken and the clock ticks. WS historically isn't my bag, but given the the 160% of average Sierra snowpack underfoot, I reckon this summer is due for a heavy snowfall on the head as well come race morning! I'd be one happy runner that day, as my Scotch/Canadian/Russian/Swedish cold blood boils over 80 degrees F.
See you in Sacramento Saturday AM. Likely candidates to be beating the American River Trail with me past Folson prison and beyond include Nick Clark, Scott Jaime, Ryan Burch, Erik Skaden, Jason Louthit, and Ian Sharman. Tell me if there is anyone else I missed. I heard Tony K is hurt and Chikara Omine as well; I'd looked forward to racing these guys. Surprisingly, I still havent raced Tony after all these years. Maybe WS..