Monday, September 23, 2013

Run Rabbit Run 2013 report: Failure, but hey that’s okay

Matt Trappe photo at the top of Mt Werner

Coming into Run Rabbit Run 100, I was super excited. I hadn’t run an ultra in three months and felt relatively rested. I had no injuries and  had spent time at altitude in the past six weeks and had been sleeping and resting in my Hypoxico tent regularly.  I had raced on Pikes Peak with respectable times and recovered well from back to back efforts overall.  I had a job lined up and the past few years of grad school energy could be redirected towards running and family.  I did have a mild summer cold the week before the race with some diarrhea, which are two completely different systems, but I found it to be a coincidental occurrence of viruses. Running-wise I felt fine.  In terms of physical effort I knew I could run 100 miles, and felt confident that I could have a solid race.  I viewed RRR as a “high stakes” race, but had coached myself in the weeks leading up to it to treat it as an adventure mostly and not push too hard. I thought about simply the act of finishing the 100, rather than winning the 100.  That said I wanted to run comfortably all afternoon and night, and if I found myself out front while doing so I wanted to roll with it. 

After being up for 24 hours dealing with the water in and around our house, I met Basit Mustafa, for the drive up, settled into our condo for the night with fellow Hoka teammates Darcy Africa and Jason Schlarb. Basit had run the course before and wasa fine resource for tips.  Jason had three guys lined up to crew, and asked Basit if he could crew for him too, but Basit stuck with me. Darcy went solo the whole race, with no crew but pre-placed drop bags, which scored huge points. Jason even thought about asking her to crew for him while for his race, she was so organized.  Race check in went smooth that afternoon, with an irunfar chat.  The next morning came too quickly, and at noon the gun went off.
Right off the bat is a steady climb up the ski area, with switch-backs and occasional steep climb but nothing ridiculous. The group of guys stayed together for the first mile then spread out quickly.  I felt excellent and had no problem topping out at the gondola with Jasons Schlarb and Louthitt right behind, our pace apparently subjectively slower than the prior year per Jason  To the Mt Werner aid station mile 4.4 at just over 10000 feet, it dipped into what would be seven miles of awesome single track to Dry Lake aid station at mile 11. We would see the DL aid three times in the race.  On the short out and back to the aid Jason and the two Tarahumara runners in the race (not to be culturally insensitive, I can’t look up their names as there as no DNF runners listed) passed, and I had about a five minute lead. I was thrilled to see the Tarahumara runners come to Colorado to run; it is a rare treat to have their talents here. The race then entered the Fish Creek drainage, which was again a big highlight of singletrack for almost 3000 feet down to see our crew for the first time at mile 17.  I loved that technical downhill combined with smooth contours near the top through willow bush thickets. The weather was cool and overcast, with no signs of bad weather, good running weather. 
Into FC aid station, I expected Basit to be there, but he wasn’t so I dropped one of my two bike bottles with Jason’s posse and kept cruising down the four mile pavement section back to town. I had no signs of anyone behind and I held back on this section as it’d be easy to run 6 minute miles and didn’t want to burn out.  Basit showed up driving up the hill, said he didn’t think we’d come through that fast so he was late. No worries though, I was fine without aid anyway as my bottle was half full so told him I’d see him at Halvorsen Hill (Olympia Aid 1, mile 21) for crew.
At the one stoplight on the whole route of course I was held for the whole 2.5 minute stoplight cycle, and then into the base of Halvorsen Hill, feeling fine, getting crew from Basit and seeing a lot of crew and spectators for the first time. The 1500 foot climb started this section up Gravel Mt and beyond, which would be a 20 mile loop back to Olympia, and I heard cheers of someone arriving at Olympia as I got five minutes up the hill.
Thus far, the race plan had gone well. I had been drinking Vitargo regularly, about 350-400 calories per hour, and supplemented a real food mixture of “feedbags” of rice, egg whites, and almond butter with less oil. A bar here and there and all was good. This formula had worked well in training too, and I planned on using no gels the whole race. All systems were go, I was at the front, but still very comfortably running. No chafe, no foot blisters, no issues, I looked forward to the night.
The climb up Quarry mountain and beyond to Cow creek (mile 35) was half dirt road climb followed by nice singletrack. Into Cow Creek I felt a few stomach rumblings like lower GI but nothing feeling like the stomach was turning off. Basit was there to crew, I quickly got out, and stopped to relieve myself a mile later, surprisingly having some diarrhea and lower GI cramps.  I didn’t feel like eating thereafter, and this was a bad sign.  I felt the pace slow, and tried to sip my Vitargo and water but it just didn’t go in. I tried a banana I’d grabbed from Basit but that was not going to go down either.  I decided to walk the pace fast to get things under control.  I walked the hill and ran the flats as the trail climbed gradually again, and then saw Schlarb just behind, shirt off and looking ripped as usual. He passed, and then Meltzer and Josh Arthur seconds behind.  I felt energy flagging, but kept the hike going all the way back to Olympic, being passed by 7 guys and finally the women’s leader Michelle Yates on the descent portion of the loop.
Into Olympia things weren’t good.  I had a talk with Basit, and walked through the aid station looking for something palatable. The Coke looked okay, so I sipped it and talked with Basit. I wasn’t close to dropping.  I felt drained, but knew I could push back up the hill to Fish Creek.  With water and Coke I jogged out of the aid, and Roch Horton kindly jogged with me for five minutes giving me advice. Those words of encouragement energized me and I pushed along up the four miles, gradually feeling better. Tim Olsen was just ahead as it was getting dark on the road, and as we climbed I felt better and better and kept him close.
At Fish Creek, Basit gave me my Black Diamond mega- lighting rig (aka “BD Polar-Icon model: -  the “Rocho-Roch Horton Vision Retina burner head and waist light combo”) and I was recharged.  I was in 12th place or so, I knew I had work to do and was charging.  I felt fine with the stomach rebounded and legs rejuvenated.  On the long 3000 foot climb up Fish I soon passed Paul Terranova and the two Tarahumaras, and then Michelle Yates with her bear bell ringing into the night.  Into Long Lake #2 mile 52.2, I came out and soon passed Tim Olsen, then Jesse Haymes, on the long dirt road at 10000 feet. At Summit Lake I heard tell that Iron Stomach Man Jeff Browning was just 7 minutes ahead.  I knew I was pushing the pace to catch these guys, but had little choice given the time I’d lost.  I was in 5th place at this time. The long 7.5 mile descent to Dry Lake was fast on dirt road, and could see Jeff close to the DL aid in the dark ahead as he has the same mega-light that I do.  He picked up pace on seeing me, and we came in close together, meeting our crews. Bryon Powell, maybe you’ve heard of him?, did some quick mental calculus and said I’d been making up five minutes per section on the leaders. This meant I’d win if I kept the pace, and I felt I could at this mile 65.
The remaining descent to the “Nick Clark” aid station, I passed Jeff exchanging pleasantries and felt fine, but it was cold and a shower was soon to come.  In 4th now, I passed Jason, Karl a few minutes later, Josh Arthur, all coming back up from the turnaround. I hit Nick Clark (Spring Creek aid, but Nick was there, which trumps any naming system) aid mile 69.8 and Jeff was right behind.  I felt good on the climb back up, and it showered and blew wind, cooling things off significantly.  At DL #2, mile 74.3, Basit was awesome getting me set up in warm long sleeves and recharged, but coming out I could see Jeff on the ascent as he’d left just before me, but I couldn’t muster any gas.  ½ mile later, my legs went basically dead, glycogen done/gone.
I tried all the tricks I could to get it back; more Vitargo, Ramen noodles from my bike bottle, Fein caffeine, but it just didn’t happen. I walked, and walked the whole 7.5 miles back to Summit Lake mile 81.9, and was getting very cold as the temps dropped.  I knew I had nothing, had tried to rebound hard, but I was literally swerving on the road with zero in my legs.  My stomach was fine, which was a plus, but I was toast. I got a ride out with a really nice local, game over.
So, I feel I gave my best.  I thought my perspective was spot on coming into the run, but something clicked off and it didn’t happen as planned.  I’ve never to my memory had GI issues in any distance race less than 100 miles, but in the last two (WS and RRR) I’ve experienced shut down at miles 25 and 30 respectively. The good news is at SD 100 I was rock solid the whole run on a severely hot day until I got off course (partly my fault), and I have run 100 milers through with no problems overall. I was unrecovered from SD when I toed the WS line, so that may have ended the game at WS.  I’ve also raced three to seven day adventure races as teammates used to call me “Iron Stomach” Dave.  The 100 milers though; they are an enigma.  My hat is off to the ones who have the ability, the fortitude, the stomach, the planning, the history and persistence to run 100’s successfully year after year, in hot or cold whether on the podium or last place.  It takes real character to finish these, and they are a long fricking way. I sure am not going to drop this distance, as I see much success ahead, and I will figure it out.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pikes Peak Double 2013

I’d always wanted to run the Pikes Peak Double, but in the prior years of running Pikes (2001, 2007, 2008, 2012) my sole focus was to win the marathon, so doubling was not an option.  As the ultra years rolled by, as well as the age group categories, it became apparent that winning Pikes marathon is not in the cards unless there were a major snowstorm, my favorite condition to run in (not unheard of in summer, actually).  I’d had three 2nd place  finishes in the past, and always finished anywhere from 1.5 minutes back (2008) to 20 minutes or so in prior years when Matt Carpenter raced. In all my racing years, these 2nd place finishes were the thorn in my side, for to win Pikes marathon or Ascent means you have access to the coveted FREE LIFETIME ENTRY. This is huge. Go online at age 80 after winning it in your youth one week before the race and you’re in. I had dreams of this occurrence and wanted to be eventually be the oldest to ever run Pikes Marathon. I did not achieve and will not achieve this in all likelihood. Ouch. Time to move on though.
Anyway, racing the Pikes Double (combined times in the 13.1 mile 8000 foot Ascent on Saturday and the 8000 up + down Marathon on Sunday) is also a huge accomplishment. To win it would be akin to winning an ultramarathon. The key to running best on the Double would be to be 1) acclimate to running hard over 10000 feet, and 2) recover well between the two races. 
Thanks to my altitude tent, I felt good over 10000 feet, as I had been sleeping that high and training locally in Boulder up to 8500 feet.  I hadn’t got down to Pikes Peak though to train on the PP course in five years, but wasn’t too worried about it.  I know the course pretty well already. I also felt I had excellent energy and recovery reserves as I had been fueling consistently in training and after with Vitargo all summer.  I also hadn’t raced an ultra since late June, so that deep ultra recovery that comes with time was present, a good thing.

Pre-race..Buzz Burrell photo
Day 1: The gun went off in downtown Manitou Springs and I settle into the pace right away that I knew I could keep to the summit. There are always a few rabbits who head off at unsustainable pace.  Thanks to Matt Carpenter, the Pikes Peak races have data and generators to help one figure their pace and splits and compare it to prior years. (  I knew that if I was in 20th place on Ascent day by the end of Ruxton street mile 1.5, I reckoned to be fine by the summit as runners peeled off the pace. The end of Ruxton just before hitting dirt single track is the hardest part of the whole Ascent, as the pitch of Barr trail all the way to the Sixteen Golden Stairs just below the summit is actually very runnable.  This is why road runners can run well there and why leg speed is an important part of Pikes training. The uninitiated Pikes runners are intimidated, but once they get on the course it can be quite fun. There are actually sections midway through the Ascent where elites run 6 minute miles or faster, as it is flat before the Barr Camp midpoint.
As said, I felt in control, but had never run only the Ascent race; in the past I could make up time on the Marathon descent second half.  I thought I had a 2 hour 35 minute ascent  in me, but I knew it all came down to the final 3 miles over 12000 feet from the “A-Frame”; above this landmark, a 13 minute mile is a difficult task up there. 
Coming off the W’s, the many switchback section in the first few miles, one is tempted to push the pace. I held back though, and found myself already passing several rabbits. It is rare in the PP ascent where one “blasts past a runner”, it is a slow grind to catch, and then a mile or two later you finally have the person out of sight. But even then it is easy to be re-passed as you climb through the five or six ecosystems of the mountain and your energy levels.
My Barr Camp split, mile 8 at 10200 feet, was 1:16.  Traditionally you can double this time and that will be your total Ascent, so I knew I was close to 2:30 pace.. if you have it in you to a decent pace over 12000 feet! Good luck. I was happy with this split but knew I’d run faster in the past and had my work cut out for me But as I climbed past Barr camp the trail gets relatively technical with off steps on large and small boulders, which I love as I am good at it compared to most runners.
I found myself racing the Ascent close to a triathlete fellow named Brian who made it verbally clear he also was running the Double. So be it. I didn’t tell him I also racing the Double, and we found ourselves in 6th and 7th place as approached the summit finish. I tried to hang on to him but didn’t have it in me as he put two minutes on me to the summit.  I crossed the line, got tackled by my daughter, and instantly had a bronchospasm that lasted 5 minutes.  It was worth it though, as a daughter’s love is like no other, and I finished 7th place in 2:34:17. Not an Ascent PR, but only 7 minutes off the podium. I quickly had three scoops of Vitargo and an almond butt and jelly sandwich, and spent the next couple hours with friends and kids on the summit, feeling very comfortable recovering at 14100 feet. Based on this, I thought I’d have a good day next day in the Marathon.  Triathlete Brian had a lead on me though, but said at the summit he was terrible at downhills for the Marathon next day. 

Not looking as good as I felt

Day 2: After an easy 200 meter warmup, the gun goes off and the Marathon started. I didn’t feel sore heading up Ruxton again, but rather a mild fatigue in my lateral quads and glutes from the Ascent. I knew pacing would be even more important, and focused on 80% effort.  I used the same fueling strategy as the Ascent; 400 calories of Vitargo on wakening, an energy bar, and 400 more calories 30 minutes before the race.  I also carried a hand bike bottle of Vitargo with me until I ran out half way up, to refill it at the top thanks to Buzz Burrell’s handoff of a fresh full bottle. 
The marathon actually was more competitive than the Ascent, because it was the USATF trail marathon championships. There were some super fast Coloradans with US Mt team resumes, Japanese, Basque, and other internationals because it was also part of the World Skyrunner series. Damn. I paced about the same as the Ascent, and surprisingly found myself in the same position and pace as the day before. Cool. I also was right near Tri Brian, and as we ascended through the Ws, and then recognized Tim Hola, a strong Colorado runner. We were close to each other getting up near Barr Camp, and as we passed through I was happy to see my split was only one minute slower than yesterday. I was happy about this as I wasn’t killing myself to maintain the pace, and as we passed Barr Camp, I left the guys and found myself reeling in more runners. I had drank my Vitargo by mile 5, and had to refill with the stuff at the aid stations, and made sure I was constantly swigging, as it was a warm day even over 10000 feet. I knew I’d gained an advantage over the other guys, because I rarely saw them touch their fuel or drink except for a cup here and there at aid stations. This paid off huge as I passed the Basque runners and their Buff sponsor uniforms through A Frame 12000 feet.  With two miles to go though, I had to stop behind a boulder to poop, which I hate to do up there, and lost 90 seconds, only to be passed by the Basques. I quickly repassed them, and with one mile to the summit the first marathon guys who’d summited came down past me on the return trip.  A Japanese runner, and eventual winner Touru Miyahara, and four other guys blew by down the hill including past PPM winner Galen Burrell and D1 runner 24 year old Cameron Clayton, who was only one minute ahead of me by the summit.
I hit the summit in surprising 2:37, got my fresh bottle from Buzz, and started working the downhill, my favorite part of racing. My descent PR was 1:20, which used to be close to top 15 all time on Pikes. I thought I could come close to this and thought I’d catch a few of these guys ahead. Running down the PPM is no easy task, it’s fast, and there are several hundred runners coming up who are supposed to yield to you, but doesn’t always happen. At A Fram I was told 30 seconds unbtil Cameron Clayton, so I knew I was gaining time. Barr Camp came by quick, and was told I had a minute til Cameron, and was surprised. After BC, I found the flats to be a challenge to keep the leg turnover, and with 5 miles to go, I wasn’t sure I’d catch him or anyone else unless they blew up.
Into the W’s with 3 miles to go, I worked hard as the 90 degree heat set in. Looking back with 2 to go, I saw a runner two switch backs up charging on me. I swore and dug deep pounding down the trail as I could hear his footsteps behind me. Luckily I increased pace and the steps faded away as the pavement mile to the finish started. I didn’t look back though and cruised into town, in 6th place overall in a moderate time of 4:02.
Not a PR by a long shot, but the mission was accomplished in winning the Double in one of the fastest times, and I was able to bounce back in stage race fashion.
I’d recommend the Double to anyone silly enough to try it, but be ready to hurt on that Descent on Day 2! 
Thanks to Hoka One One for mega cushioning recovery, Injinji for zero blisters and comfort ( I wore the same pair of Injinji's back to back days), Udo's Oil for my daily three tablespoons, Vitargo S2 fuel, Hypoxico air, and Julbo USA shades.

Last turn to the PP Marathon finish (Nancy Hobbs photo)

 Post race video about Vitargo usage during a post- Pikes Boulder training run