Monday, August 18, 2014

Leadville DNF

Briefly noted because this year's Leadville was also unsuccessful.

I will note that arriving 5+ days before the race, I had no issues breathing and keeping a pace at altitude. So I did at least one thing right. I also slammed back 40 gels by Twin Lakes inbound, which has got to be a PR for gel consumption per mile.

But not all of that gel stayed down. Oh no. I was taking the early miles to May Queen very conservatively to ensure I didn't go out too hard, but by the time I reached the aid station I was slowing down for a very different reason - about 3 bathroom breaks only 2 hours into the race. Seriously, I had to make 2 pit stops on the trail around Turquoise Lake and 1 at the aid station porta-potty. It's not a negligible loss of time - each time involved hiking through the thick underbrush about 100 feet from the trail, digging a hole, taking care of business, and packing up. Each stop was 5 or 7 minutes. This would continue all the way to Winfield. Something was just not sitting right.

Even worse was the puking. After May Queen I had started to work my way up through the field; I was somewhere around 100th at May Queen and was in 71st by the bottom of Powerline, and between there and Outward Bound I had dropped another 10 or so runners. But on the descent on Powerline I had to stop for a minute and go through a few waves of dry heaves that left the taste of stomach acid in my mouth.

I was feeling nauseated at Treeline, and not even a mile out of the crew area I stopped dead in my tracks and spewed forth a mix of gel and orange water. I had to undo the straps on my bottle pack because the muscle contractions were so intense. This happened about 5 times on the way to Twin Lakes, but through it all I continued to pass people. In fact, it took me 1:50 to go from Treeline (27) to Twin Lakes (39.5), which was a fantastic pace. Basically, puking and shitting be damned, I'm still going to race.

I got to Twin Lakes feeling good; I ate a sandwich and got the hell out of there.

Leaving Twin Lakes at 40.5 miles. Photo by VFuel Endurance.

I really love the climb up Hope Pass on the way out. There's the river rushing on your right, a lush forest all around that shields you from the sun, and wildflowers above treeline that color the valley purple and blue. But something felt really off in my bladder on this climb, and it became very apparent on the descent into Winfield.

Weighing in at 6 pounds under starting weight, I parked myself down and drank a couple of pounds of water and some broth. At this point I figured that the bladder pain was from dehydration. My pacer Brad got me going on a good pace down the contour trail to the start of the climb, and we actually passed a number of folks on the climb up the backside of Hope Pass. I was trying to rehydrate on the climb as best as I could, but the pain wasn't going away. Not getting worse, just staying the same.

And then we started the descent to Twin Lakes. About halfway down Hope Pass, every time I needed to juke around a rock or tried to pick up the pace, I could feel a sharp stabbing pain on the left side of my bladder. At this point, all I could say was that I was still eating.

I sat down at Twin Lakes exhausted and defeated. I tried to put back some food but was feeling really nauseated. I laced up fresh shoes for the trip up Mount Elbert and stopped in at the medical area to get the bladder issue checked out. I was hoping that they'd have some remedy for whatever was going on.

And after getting the separate opinion of two medical doctors, I had to pull out. Both diagnosed a developing or very early hernia. I'm 25, there's no freaking way I'm going to risk requiring surgery for a full-blown hernia for a race, no matter how much preparation went into it.

Their inclination was that the sheer amount of vomiting I experienced may have been the culprit.

I'm still trying to process all of this, because it was such a wild end to what could have been a wicked come-from-behind race. Honestly, who gets a hernia at a 100? Who even thinks about that as a possibility? I think I've been hit by one of those things that basically cannot be prepared for; all you can be prepared to do is accept what's happening and make the right decision. Even if there was a 10% chance of that hernia getting worse, I don't think it would have been worth it. This wasn't an overuse injury that I could limp home with; this was, literally, my intestines pushing through my abdominal wall. Hell no, man, hell no.

I'll be back next year, as always. And rather than walking away with my tail between my legs, I'm going to take a hard look at my training and racing schedule. I need solid time off right now for a number of reason - not the least of which to make sure my colon doesn't fly out of my chest.

Thanks to my pacers and crew for coming out, and I hope I can see you all again next year. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bighorn 100



I’ve been in a slump for a while with the 100 mile distance. After an incredible 18:10 Badger Mountain 100 in March last year, I DNF’ed Bighorn and Leadville last summer and dropped down to the 50 miler at Badger Mountain this year. I think a combination of overtraining, poor recovery and eating, and some hubris got the better of me.

Bighorn this year was redemption for me. I came into it with a renewed sense of respect for the distance and, over the course of 27 hours, found my will to run again. 

The race is, to put it mildly, a bit of a monster. An out-and-back starting at the mouth of the Tongue River Canyon in Dayton, WY, runners ascend the Sheep Creek drainage from 3,000 to about 8,000 feet, descend the Dry Fork canyon to 4,000 feet, and then ascend the Bighorn River canyon to 9,000 feet, where they turn around, retracing their steps to finish at Scott Park in Dayton. The surface is a mix of dirt jeep track, rough singletrack, elk/game trail, and some bushwhacking across the tundra near the turn-around. The climbs and descents are big, sustained efforts.

The start of the race was hot this year, hotter than I remember. I opted to go shirtless with the UD SJ pack and use a bandana soaked in water to keep cool. I kept it real easy through the canyon and up the first climb to Horse Creek Ridge, making sure I was drinking and fueling enough to offset the stress of the heat. I was in good spirits at Dry Fork as I ripped down the steep descent into the valley, but I was soon feeling the heat radiating off the dry, dusty jeep track. 

Rolling down from Dry Fork with the Fort Golden Boulder pack. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

The descent to Footbridge at mile 30 was relatively uneventful, as the early miles should be. I was getting calories in and staying somewhat cool despite the searing sun overhead. When I got into the shade of the trees near the bottom of the canyon I saw a lot of folks dragging on the downhill, and upon entering the aid station saw a pack of runners who had dropped due to the heat and were waiting for a ride out. 

I chugged along up the climb to the turn-around, beginning to notice that something wasn’t quite right. I was having trouble deciphering what other runners were saying to me, but I figured it might just be ear-fatigue from wearing headphones for the past 6 hours. The climb to Spring Marsh seemed to last forever, and I was getting worried as the sun kept disappearing behind the canyon wall; I had banked on getting into Jaws before nightfall, so I started to push the pace. At Spring Marsh I barely stopped for broth before pushing on around the corner into the numerous creek crossings and waterlogged trails ahead.

 Modern cowboy. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

I made it to Elk Camp just as the sun dipped below the horizon. I was still shirtless, but the cold wind blowing down the mountainside convinced me to lace up my rain jacket and get some warm ramen at the aid station. The aid station captain pointed out some elk on the far hillside, and it took me more than a moment to focus on them – again, an obvious sign that something was up, but for someone who was dead-focused on making it to the turn-around as fast as possible, I didn’t spare a second to think things through.

The trail up to the turn-around was soggy as usual, with plenty of shoe-sucking mud and snow drifts to get my feet soaked. The creek crossings near the top of the climb were so obnoxious that I just plowed through them, abandoning any attempt to keep my feet remotely dry. It was getting dark in the stands of pine trees but I could still make out the trail just fine. It was only when I hit the gently-sloping tundra at the top of the climb that it got too dark to make out much detail, and I started running glow-stick to glow-stick.

I made it to the aid station just as the horizon transitioned from blue to black. Triumphantly entering the tent, I promptly threw back two quesadillas and a red bull, loaded up my pack, grabbed my head lamp, and got the hell out of there. I was anxious about getting too comfortable in the warm tent, and didn’t want to give myself time to think about the night ahead – just get out and do it! Unfortunately, that meant that I was still ignoring the warning signs of dulled senses.

After a few miles of running I was beginning to stumble around a bit, especially through the mud. A nearby flash lit up the clouds and the trees, with thunder following only a second or two later – a thunderstorm had parked itself over the turn-around and started dumping rain. The once-dry patches of dirt trail turned to slick mud. I was starting to have trouble convincing myself to eat gels, which usually go down just fine this late in a race. 

Elk Camp was like the medical tent at an army outpost – full of sullen faces, people sitting dejected by the fire, being tended to by some college students who had volunteered for a night full of fun. I cruised through there pretty fast, hoping to just get the hell out of this weather and off the mountain. 

Stumbling over rocks and tufts of grass, I landed into a seat at Spring Marsh and felt my vision spinning – not good. I put back a couple of cups of soup and a gel and still felt terrible. My right foot was starting to feel weird, too. It wasn’t in pain, but it felt like the skin in my arch was coming loose from the rest of the foot. Whatever, screw it, just keep plowing through the darkness down the mountain so you can change out of these muddy, water-logged shoes and socks. 

You can only ignore problems in a 100 for so long. I thought I was handling things but I was really just pushing them to the back of my mind. It’s a hard lesson that I’m not going to forget soon: it doesn’t matter if you keep running, because sooner or later, if you don’t fix those little problems, they will eat you alive.

Which is what happened. Not long after Spring Marsh, I started to lose it. I heard voices around me and kept swinging the spotlight of my headlamp wildly. After a while I realized something was wrong with my hydration – I had been drinking, right? Right. I had been eating salty stuff. I tried the ultimate, fool-proof test: I imagined myself eating broth, eating a gel, and drinking some pure, cold water. The first got my taste buds working, the second sounded mediocre, and the thought of water absolutely made me want to heave. I had hydrated plenty during the heat of the day and the climb, sure, but I was 99% sure that I had somehow skimped on salt and gotten hyponatremic. That would explain the fuzzy brain, the stumbling, the voices…only later would I learn that the Hammer electrolyte caps at the aid stations had about 1/3 of the salt as S-caps, which is what I typically use. Instead of putting back 1-2 pills per hour, I needed 4-6 to get what I was used to. Totally in my control, but when you don’t pay attention, even for a minute, things can go south.

So there I am, stumbling downhill to Footbridge like an idiot, in the dark, barely able to think straight. I can feel my foot starting to hurt, which is of course a bad sign – it’s a sharp, deep pain, but not muscular. When I hit the aid station I grab a seat at a chair with a tub of water and a towel. I gingerly remove my shoe, then my sock, and find a nasty, shriveled foot with a big crack running right down the center of my arch. And it’s oozing some pinkish, brownish goop.

Don’t panic. I slam back some pancakes with syrup and a couple of cups of broth and get my head straight. I need to get a hold of this foot before it takes me out of the race. I clean the crack and slather everything in Vaseline. With dry shoes and socks and a pack full of food I head out into the darkness again, across the bridge and up the impossibly steep climb up to Bear Camp aid station – “The Wall”.

The Wall was where I realized I was in for it. I had barely enough energy to stagger upward. The hyponatremia had killed my apetite so much that I was running on empty. I tried in vain to eat gels on the climb but they did nothing. Just as I was losing the will to keep moving, I looked back down the canyon to the Montana border and saw the sky turn crimson from the approaching sun. The tan and ochre striations of the Dry Fork canyon wall began to emerge from the darkness and the stars overhead faded. And I thought to myself, how often do you get to experience the absolute peace and serenity of being alone on the trail in the wilderness before the dawn? At that moment I stopped caring about the burning in my legs, the pain in my foot, anything – and I picked up the pace.

I hit Bear Camp and had broth, and coffee, and hot chocolate, and some salty-as-hell chips, and I started the long haul up the rolling hills to Cow Camp. My foot was really killing me and I started to notice that my…two members between my thighs were really, really chafed, burning with every step. I had another marathon’s worth of distance to cover with these two maladies, and I heard that voice in my head tell me to stop. But I knew that the pain would be gone soon after the race, so I decided then and there to slog it out, no matter how long it would take. At this point, my 24-hour time goal was going to be impossible after the hyponatremia and the hobbled foot, but finishing was totally in the cards if I kept myself moving.

At Cow Camp I had the medical volunteer take a look at my foot while I gorged on bacon and fried potatoes. He thought there was some nerve damage around the somewhat-closed gash, given the pattern of swelling and raw skin, and told me I could always hitch a ride back to Dry Fork in their ATV. No thanks, the only way I’m finishing this race is by crossing the line.

The sun was up, so I shed my jacket and ran in the cool morning air through fields of wildflowers covered in dew. I was feeling a little queasy but I was happy to just be in the sun again. Until I hit the dirt road back up to Dry Fork. It was 8:30 in the morning and the dirt was starting to cook. As was my skin. Without sunglasses or my bandana (which I had shed in a drop bag earlier) I was pretty exposed to the relentless sun.

As I crested a hill I saw something running ahead of me out of the corner of my eye – a moose! She was galloping ahead to the road where…her calf was parked under an overgrown bush. Oh no. Not now. I was so tired I knew that if she charged I was going to be totally screwed. I unlatched my emergency whistle, stood still, and ate a gel, waiting until she decided to herd her kid off the road. Seriously lady, I’m tired and sick and weigh about 1/5 of your weight – do I look like I’m a threat?

After that thrilling episode, I made it to Dry Fork totally exhausted despite eating my fill at Bear Camp. And I soon found out why. I ate a breakfast burrito while Celeste tended to my feet. She washed them off, dressed them with Vaseline, and put on my dry socks while I chomped down to try to get my energy levels back. But instead of feeling better I felt worse. And worse. And then it came up – the burrito, broth, gels, chunks of potatoes, bits of bacon. I hadn’t digested anything I ate for the past couple of hours. No wonder I felt like crap since sunrise.

 Entering the pain cave at mile 87, near Upper Sheep Creek inbound. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

But then I felt amazing! I tied my laces, grabbed some soda, and got the hell out of Dry Fork. I had gotten so stiff that I started walking, and when I finally could, I started running again. And I looked around at the trees and the creeks and the fields of wildflowers filling the contours of the mountains around me. I found an ounce of happiness on that searing, white gravel road up to Sheep Creek and never let it go.

Passing 30K and 50K runners left and right, I rolled right into the thick of the Upper Sheep Creek aid station and starting eating everything in sight – potatoes, gel shots in cups, fruit. The volunteer running the station was hurrying me along as he filled my bottles with ice water and soda. And then I was off, headed to the final climb up to Horse Creek Ridge. As the trail turned impossibly steep I grunted and heaved myself forward until I finally crested the hill and saw the entire Sheep Creek drainage sprawl out below me, rocks and trees and wildflowers funneling down the steep hillside to the Tongue River canyon far below. In the distance, I could see the town of Dayton, still miles away, but in sight. 

It was hot and the downhill running ripped at my sore arch and pounded my blisters. I could feel my big toes going numb and my head burning but I threw it all to the wind and just ran. I hit the Lower Sheep Creek aid station with 8 miles to go and said not a word to anyone. I was so ready to be done, trying hard to hold onto that determination and drive it home, that I didn’t want to lose focus for a second. I filled my bottles and, on the way out, drenched my head in the creek. 

Everything was mechanical instinct. Take a gel. Take a sip of water. Squirt water on head. Sip soda. Feel the pain. Feel the heat. Ignore. 

Trees, other runners, rocks, the raging river – everything was just a blur. It felt like I was warping through time. My form was fluid but every step took tremendous strength. I lofted myself over the rocky outcroppings toward the end of the trail and plowed into the aid station at the start of the gravel road that would take me home. With 5 miles to go and the temperature soaring, I let a volunteer mist me down while I put back watermelon slices. 

And that’s where the hurt began to pile up. The miles of non-stop running since Dry Fork snowballed and, for a moment, started to defeat me. I walked for a minute or two along the gravel road as it wound through the trees lining the shoreline of the Tongue River.

Galloping down Tongue River Road into Dayton, with about 4 miles to go. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

The voice in my head had been quiet until then, overwhelmed by my determination to push forward. But instead of tempting me to slow, to stop, to rest, all I could think of was: dig deep. Dig your feet deep into that gravel, or don’t even bother getting to the finish at all.

And I ran the rest of the way in. As I rounded the corner on the dirt road and entered Dayton the last 27 hours started to come back to me all at once. There were so many times that I almost didn’t make it, almost lost control, that I actually couldn’t believe I was back in Dayton. I could no longer feel the deep crack in my foot, the blisters, the chafing, the sunburn, nothing (that would of course change minutes after crossing the finish).
 
When I crossed the finish line I felt relieved and sat down in disbelief. I laughed to myself, because almost any one of the things that went wrong during the race would have caused me to DNF in previous races.
This time around, I was just resolved to never let anything get the best of me. When something went wrong, I handled it – eventually -, fixed it, and pushed on without thinking twice. It’s the key to surviving 100 milers, but somehow, I had forgotten it.

 And the face says it all. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

Bighorn is the most beautiful, most remote, most wild race I’ve ever run, and I will absolutely come back next year. The people that manage it, the volunteers, and the community of Dayton are unrivaled, and the people that I met running it are some of the most badass, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps types I’ve encountered. 

100 miles through the mountains is a long way to go, that’s bound to hurt, with so many chances to fail; I think that’s why I love it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sean O'Brien 50 Mile



Or, in which I find myself unable to run, but then miraculously recover.

Some races just plain go wrong, but I think part of maturing as a runner is taking it in stride, to make a terrible pun, and make the best of it. Maybe you get injured or screw up your nutrition. Whatever happens, swallow your pride and relish the experience.

 Feeling pretty good cresting the rocky outcropping right before the first aid station.

I had a run in with terrible piriformis syndrome during the Sean O’Brien 50 miler this weekend. I was running solidly down from Buzzard Roost Ranch at the top of the climb on the return leg of the out-and-back when I felt a tingle in my right toes and something seizing up in my butt. Fast forward two miles later and I’m hobbling awkwardly as my right quad and hip flexor are inoperable and there is tremendous nerve and joint pain around my right hip. 

But let’s rewind. I took it super relaxed over the first four miles of the course, hanging back in about 30-40th and taking in the sights and smells of the pre-dawn Santa Monica mountains. Midway up the first climb onto the backbone trail I started to get my race into motion, and once I hit the twisty single track after the first aid station I was in the zone. It’s a good day when you feel like a river, flowing over rocks and around the curves, just letting the trail whisk you forward.

Heading down to Bonsall aid station. The trail winds its way off to the right to the bottom of the ridge, crosses the valley, ascends the far ridge, and then descends the fire road visible in the distance...only to run back up to this fire road. I know I've descended into trail runner madness when such prospects actually get me excited.

The ~2500 foot descent into Bonsall aid station is simply amazing, with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Zuma Canyon, and a few McMansions in the distance (okay, those were lame, but the mountains are surprisingly remote for being so close to LA). The aid station, situated at the mouth of the canyon, was already heating up by 9AM. 

I made a crucial strategic move here that a lot of folks didn’t – I picked up a second water bottle. The next aid is more than 9 miles away with a good 2500-3000 feet of climbing and a hot sun beating down on the canyon walls. Why anyone would leave with a single water bottle is beyond me, but I passed folks absolutely trashed and dehydrated at the bottom of the steep fire road descent halfway through this section. Me? I was enjoying my icy Mountain Dew and salt water.

Just as I transitioned from the endless climb to the descent into Kanan #2 I felt the first sign of piriformis: a tingling in my right big toe and a weird tightness in my butt. At this point in the race things tend to just start getting sore, so I brushed it off. At Kanan I was joking with the volunteers about needing a new butt muscle and was still in good spirits, but things just crashed half a mile out from the aid station. My hip joint started to ache and it became increasingly difficult to swing my leg forward. Before reaching Latigo crossing I was reduced to an odd, lopsided shuffle-hobble. I couldn’t run up any incline at all, and running downhill was almost physically impossible: I literally could not move my leg the way I wanted it to. Crawling up to the aid station, I was desperate, almost ready to drop out, but something inside of me resolutely said, “No”. I called for a tennis ball and a volunteer lent me a foam roller. 

After maybe 20 minutes of rolling around in a dusty parking lot, I decided to give it a shot and trudge to the 43 mile aid station, Corral Canyon. There’s a short climb up from Latigo, which I managed to sort-of-run without too much pain, but as soon as I started the forested descent I hit rock bottom. My sciatic nerve was periodically firing up and sending waves of pain up and down my leg. Every time my glutes painfully seized up I would grab a tree. I finally picked up a sharp rock and started digging into my glute, trying in vain to calm my piriformis muscle. It must have looked absolutely ridiculous to everyone who passed me.

 Scenery like this is hard to enjoy when your butt is in seizure mode.

Every minute, stopped in my tracks. Every minute, digging a rock into my butt. It took me over an hour to go 4 miles, but I was still making forward progress. When I hit the dusty single track that weaves through the chaparral I awkwardly galloped straight-legged the mile or so to the aid station…

…which was manned by some absolutely awesome volunteers. Someone lent me a tennis ball and I went to work rolling around on it in the gravel. After perhaps 25 minutes of agony I suddenly felt my piriformis release its tight grip on the nerve, and the tingling in my toes subsided. The sun was out, the views were spectacular, and I was way behind where I should have been in the race. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying my last 7 miles on the course.

 "FORTY-FIVE RUNNERS AHEAD OF US, JIMMY"

Within a mile of leaving that aid station, I was back to running, albeit slowly. I found that if I kept my feet close together (as you’re not supposed to) I could move pretty fast without tweaking my piriformis. People who had seen me suffering on the side of the trail suddenly saw me blasting past them on the descent off the backbone trail. I ran straight up and over that final hill and sprinted the last mile down into the finish.
Never throw in the towel. Suck it up, swallow your pride, and just finish the damn race. Sometimes, if you stick with it and have the right attitude, you can solve those big problems and finish strong. I know I would have finished with a far better place and time had I not gotten injured, but that’s not how it went down so I can’t judge this race in that way. Pain is temporary but the sting of a DNF lasts forever. Besides, this was great training for Badger Mountain; the fact that this race felt "easy", injury notwithstanding, probably bodes well for my fitness.
 
 Malibu Creek State Park at the start/finish, unfazed by the smog a few miles to the southeast in the big city of sprawl.

I think the piriformis could have originated out of some sort of biomechanical compensation for a slight, lingering Achilles bursitis on my left heel. I was prepared for that to flare up but it was fine – just a little stiff – even after then compensating for my bum right leg. I’ve found injuries tend to alternate legs, which makes sense, but I’ve been stuck in a vicious cycle over the past year or longer. I think strength training has alleviated this somewhat, but it’s something I need to curtail sooner rather than later. 

But anyway, just remember – if your piriformis flares up during a race, sit on a tennis ball for half an hour, run with a rock dug into your glute, and stride with your feet awkwardly close together. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blue Sky Marathon



While I like to indulge in 50 and 100 mile races, there’s nothing like a trail marathon in brisk fall weather – the frosty start, leaves turning gold and orange, and a pair of burning lungs.

Two weeks before the Blue Sky Trail Marathon, I still had yet to run more than 4 miles at a time. After bruising my medial collateral ligament in the Leadville 100, I had barely been able to jog more than a few minutes before my right knee ached. My recovery was nevertheless rapid thanks to the amazing work of physical therapist Steve Wade at CSU, but I entered this race with zero conditioning, unless you consider one 40-mile week adequate preparation for a marathon.

The Blue Sky Trail Marathon begins with a deceptively easy two-mile warmup on the groomed Soderberg Trail before turning straight up Towers road. At that point a lead pack tore away with Corey Hanson and a few other runners, among them eventual winner Kyle O’Brien.

When we turned off Towers and onto Herrington the race took on a very different character, with six or so guys really hitting the dirt, skidding around switchbacks and muscling up awkwardly-sloped trails. And then the downhill. It’s impossible to describe the exhilaration and fear that comes from running fast down a technical trail. Stout trail is full of loose rock and boulders wedged into the hillside, and it’s impossible not to feel a little afraid of wiping out bounding downhill.

 More or less falling down Stout Trail (photo by Eric Lee).

Soderberg trail gives you just a moment of time to collect yourself and mentally prepare for the meat of the race – the out-and-back on the Blue Sky trail. I pulled into the lead for a brief moment on the Blue Sky trail before Kyle rocketed into the lead. I caught him on the downhill into the Indian Summer North aid station; he stopped and I rolled through, and from there I assumed the lead up Indian Summer. It was here that things started to hurt, and I realized that I was going to have to work insanely hard to hold on to it. 

 Descending into Indian Summer North (photo by Erin Bibeau).

Pausing at Indian Summer South for water, I ceded some of my lead before finally losing it at the top of Devil’s Backbone. Within a few moments, Kyle had seemingly floated over the jagged slickrock and boulders, and here I was stranded in second. The 3-mile section around the Backbone gives you no relief, with very few runnable stretches and plenty of awkwardly-slanted routes. Slog it out and hold on to second for now, I thought.

I got a rush descending the Backbone to Indian Summer South as I saw Kyle in the distance, but by the time I hit the Indian Summer climb I could feel myself running out of steam, again. I popped a gel on the way up and said a prayer to the running gods, and by the time I reached the descent into Indian Summer North I was able to open up my stride and regain my composure.

Gettin' that gel packet ready for disposal (photo by Erin Bibeau).

Kyle had a lot of time on me, and with 4-ish miles left I was going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat. As I was nearing the top of the climb out of Indian Summer North I could see Justin Liddle leaving the aid station looking fresh. I attacked the hairpin turns and boulders on Blue Sky despite the burning in my legs. 

I started sprinting when I saw the finish line filter into view through the chainlink fence and the leaves of the locus trees. Second, 3:26:12 – faster than last year, and beyond my expectations given the recent bodywreck at Leadville.

What's next? I'm going to focus on some strength training at the expense of mileage until the end of the year, when I'll transition to high-mileage training once again. I'll be doing the Sean O'Brien 50 mile on February 1st, the Badger Mountain 100 on March 28th, Leadville in August. I'll be taking my preliminary exams in May, so I'm not sure I'll be able to swing Quad Rock, but I'd love to do the Wyoming Marathon again and take a crack at the course record (I wasn't far away when I did it in 2012). As for the rest, who knows, sometimes it's fun to enter races at the last minute.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Leadville 100: DNF

What was otherwise turning into a fantastic race for me fell apart between Twin Lakes and Treeline inbound.

About two miles into the climb out of Twin Lakes I felt a sharp pain in my left Achilles and could feel some tendon fibers jumbling around. Fast forward to Half Pipe where I started to get severe pain, and by the time I reached my crew at Treeline I could only hobble.

Nearly an hour later I reached Outward Bound (77 miles) and was unable to walk. I called it after I was unable to loosen up a very stiff, sore Achilles and had apparently developed pes anserine bursitis in my right knee. Just sitting still was a painful endeavor at that point.

I had been having a great race - starting in around 35th at May Queen and working my way up to 13th, I had run a very controlled and comfortable first 50 miles, eating 3 gels per hour and keeping within 2 pounds of my starting weight. I don't think I've had a race, especially at altitude, where I was able to knock back gels so easily.

A more detailed report will come, but suffice to say I've never walked away from a race more physically trashed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Quad Rock 50


Been awhile since I’ve been here but I’m going to try to revive a somewhat irregular posting schedule. I’m really not down with the whole weekly summary thing, and more interested in posting about runs and races when they give me a creative spark.

I’ll move through some updates in chronological order.

First off, the Quad Rock 50 went well. Despite falling behind on hydration in the heat, I managed to slog it out and take 12th in 8:52, at the tail end of a good pack of guys – Hinterberg, Bryan Williams, and Troy Howard. I started the race brisk but manageably, keeping a very conservative pace up Towers Road and the climb up Horsetooth Rock trail. By the Mill Creek descent I was sinking into a nice groove, and I essentially coasted on up over Arthur’s Rock and down Timber trail. 

The climb up Timber was a nice kick in the shorts, a reminder that the course is damn tough (11,000ft of gain!). The valley trails were starting to bake as I started the climb up Mill Creek, aka El Gran Pendejo. I certainly agree with others on this point: the Mill Creek climb on the second loop of Quad Rock is the hardest part of the course, mentally and physically. You’ve run a touch over 33 miles and have ascended and descended Horsetooth and its accompanying ridgeline four times. The trail is steep, at times requiring you to clamber up rocks and roots, and oh do those breaks in the trees heat up. You need grit to pull yourself through.

 The meadows below Arthur's Rock in Lory State Park.

As I reached Towers it started sprinkling, and I used the brief respite from the intense midday sun to rally and pick off a few runners on Westridge. At the bottom of Horsetooth it was clear that I was way, way dehydrated. I stumbled up to the final climb up Spring Creek and spent a good chunk of time at Towers aid chugging water. I knew that aid from here on in was going to be sparse, and I didn’t like the soreness I was feeling in my kidneys. I hit the descent with conviction and turned onto Stout ready to bring this all home.
On the first loop, I lofted myself over all of the downed tree trunks on Sawmill. I figured I could do the same maneuver after 46 miles of running: big mistake! I put my right foot on a trunk, and when I tried to push myself up and over, my quad didn’t respond. Instead, I smashed into the tree and curled around the front. For a minute, I panicked and thought I broke something. After a brief episode of limping and shouting expletives, I was back to ripping it down the contour trail – this time gingerly stepping over each tree.

By the time I made it to Arthur’s aid, a thunder cloud had parked itself over the finish area and was peppering the sky with lightning. All hell broke loose as I was pelted with hail and cold rain over the last two miles, thunder clapping all around, until I reached the finish line. Finally, the sky cleared.

Given the amazing runners in this race, I’m more than happy with my performance. As always, though, there are things to improve.