Friday, August 31, 2012

Back in the saddle (sort of)

Latent pain from the arch taping during Leadville has subsided, and it seems like my plantar fasciitis is well on its way to recovery.

Headed up to Horsetooth yesterday with Brad and Erlend for my second Horsetooth Rock ascent time trial. I managed to eke out a 23:45 - 4 seconds off Sam's fastest known time. That was without warming up and still feeling some plantar fascia pain. Depending upon how I feel I may make an effort to turn the 24 hours of towers event into a long run.

Ultimately, I'm learning that I have plenty of speed and really need to work on very long distance stuff between now and next year's racing season. I'll be doing the Blue Sky Marathon here in October and then running TNF Endurance Challenge 50 mile the weekend before the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. Obviously the marathon is a fast race, but I'm confident that I can lay down a pretty fast time in the Headlands. After a year's worth of running on Colorado trails, California's comparatively pristine coastal trails should feel easy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Leadville post-race thoughts

A more lengthy report is forthcoming, but I figured I would write some thoughts down while they're still fresh.

This year's Leadville 100 was the most painful thing I have ever done. I entered the race with some mild plantar fasciitis in my right foot that ballooned into an extremely painful entrapped nerve. Add in some blisters from altering my gait and I had one very abused foot. I'd say it was 8-9/10 on the pain scale from mile 70 to the finish.

It was humbling to run so slowly and finish not in the dead of night, but at sunrise. However, it feels better to have finished and stuck it out than to have quit when I knew it wouldn't end well. I took Ken's words to heart and never thought of quitting, even when I was reduced to focusing on just the next step. Finish what you start.

Never drink a full can of coke at an aid station. You will turn into a fire hydrant of Clif Shot Blok chunks and stinging, fizzy vomit. It is true that you feel fantastic afterward.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Weeks ending July 15, July 22

Monday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Felt a bit tired and groggy the whole day, but I managed to slug out the mileage I wanted.

Tuesday: 10 miles, Foothills trail, 1250ft of gain; 6 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Okay, feeling much better after I decided to eat more - imagine that, eating more food gives me more energy!

Wednesday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. The last run of the day was more like 2 miles out, take cover, and then 2 miles back. I got caught in a pop-up thunderstorm and hunkered down in a ditch for about 10 minutes.

Thursday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain; 8 miles, Towers time trial, 1750ft of gain. Whoah, what a day. I don't know why, but I kept thinking next week was the triple-T, so I did my normal routine for the day - morning and lunch run. I saw Nick's email reminder when I got back and decided to head out later tonight, anyway. Despite the heat I managed to PR again and knock my time down to 29:17. I foresee myself breaking 29 minutes come the cool evenings of fall.

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Not surprisingly, today's run was on tired legs. I kept it short and sweet to save myself for tomorrow.

Saturday: 20 miles, 4000ft of gain, Continental Divide in RMNP. Started at Bear Lake, summitted Flattop Mountain and then cruised on down to Haynach Lake. On the way back I tagged Hallet Peak before dropping back down to the trailhead. I kept my head above 10,000ft for almost the entire run - Leadville is coming and the last thing I want is to feel inadequately prepared for the altitude.

Sunday: Off.

Mileage: 100 miles
Elevation gain: 17,250ft

Ah yes, the magic 100 mile week. To be honest, this feels so much easier after the past 6 months of training, even though they've been interrupted by the occasional injury or extended post-race recovery (read: Badger Mountain 100).

Monday: 25 miles, 5500ft of gain, Quad Rock 25 course (clockwise). Got up super early to crank this guy out. I felt quite good on the entire run until I hit the climb up Howard trail on the inbound leg. I put my right foot on a boulder and lofted myself up, only to fall to my hands and knees. Feels like I pulled something in my arch area. Iced the bejesus out of it afterward.

Tuesday: Can't walk without pain. I ditched today's training to massage and ice the arch. I don't think I've ever had an acute injury like this from trail running.

Wednesday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Well, it feels a bit better and I was able to complete my runs without significant pain or altering my gait. If things keep improving I'll just keep training.

Thursday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2000ft of gain; 14 miles, Foothills trail, 2500ft of gain. I can't tell if it's much better or not, but again, running isn't being hampered.

Friday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2500ft of gain. Added the extra climb by the Laporte dam and cut out the tagging of the big A. Foot feels about the same.

Saturday: 15 miles, Long's Peak Keyhole, 5000ft of gain. 2:25 up and 1:35 down for a roundtrip of ~4 hours. Got held up behind a mass of humanity trying to navigate the Ledges and the Trough. I passed almost all hikers by the time I got to the top - and I started at about 6:30. Lots of strange reactions from folks.

Sunday: Off.

Mileage: 90 miles
Elevation gain: 20,250ft

Monster elevation gain this week, especially for the mileage. Long's Peak was great fun and I'm looking forward to heading back sometime.

 Long's Peak nestled between Mount Lady Washington on the right and Mount Meeker on the left. To the notch!

Above treeline on the way to Granite Pass.

Scrambling through the boulder field up to the Keyhole.
 Looking back along the Narrows. To the left is a nearly-sheer drop.

 Another view of the Narrows.

The Palisades from the Homestretch. This is where the Loft route joins the Keyhole route on the final ascent.

Long's Peak summit - flat as a pancake, as large as a football field. And quite lonely when you're one of the first ones up!

 Getting ready to bomb down the Trough on the way back. Summit to Keyhole took 25 minutes.

Cruising over the tundra just past Granite Pass.
Wild views up here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Weeks ending July 1, July 8

Monday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Reservoir Ridge run plus a quick jaunt up to the top of the ridge. Damn hot out, son.

Tuesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Out-and-back to the Laporte Dam plus a repeat lunchtime run of yesterday. I figure as long as the heat is here to stay for the foreseeable future, I should get some heat training.

Wednesday: 11 miles, Foothills trail, 2000ft of gain; 5 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Slightly modified the morning run to exclude the trail around the Laporte dam and instead just ran across the dam. To make up the mileage I tagged the big A in the afternoon. Got done with the latter run and got the shivers as soon as I stepped inside. 100 degrees will do that to you.

Thursday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2500ft of gain. Back to the normal Reservoir Ridge tagging route. The Ridge is really growing on me - supremely runnable hills on the west side, rock-laden scree-like trails on the east side.

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain; 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Did the even split today, which I probably won't do again. I think a longer run is more beneficial.

Saturday: 19 miles, 5500ft of gain, Mount Alice and Wild Basin extravaganza.

Sunday: Off.

Mileage: 91 miles
Elevation gain: 17,750ft of gain

Saturday was pretty wild - some choice photos below. I think I've picked up the peak-bagging bug; scrambling over boulders at 13,000ft and running off trail on the tundra is liberating.

 Chief's Head and Longs Peaks and Mount Meeker, left to right, from Mount Alice.

 Pete crossing the saddle on the Mount Alice summit.

 Chris and Pete running across the tundra on the divide.

 One of many possible routes down to Lake of Many Winds (unseen, to the right) and Thunder Lake.

The trail snaking back up to Lake of Many Winds and the divide.

Monday: 12 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Did the Reservoir Ridge out-and-back plus the trail around the Laporte dam, plus a quick run up to the Foothills trail junction at noon. Heat training, baby.

Tuesday: 9 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 5 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Took it easy today, with an out-and-back to the base of the Laporte dam. I finished the run with some minor soreness below my second metatarsal in my right foot. The soreness increased throughout the day. I've either dislocated my toe or I have capsulitis, the latter of which I've had before.

Wednesday: 11 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2000ft of gain; 5 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. RR out-and-back sans Laporte trail, plus a quick tagging of the big A in the afternoon. I was going to do the Firekracker 5K but I decided not to, given the notable pain in my metatarsal. The first several miles of the run, especially the uphill section, was painful - it felt like my second toe was being stretched on push-off. I hit a rock on the downhill to the beach and felt a pop, and pain! This whole episode sounds suspiciously like a dislocated toe.

Thursday: 16 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 3000ft of gain. No pain in the metatarsal so I went ahead and did a nice medium-length run - multiple laps around Reservoir Ridge plus the Laporte dam trail.

Friday: 12 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain. Same thing but with one lap around the ridge.

Saturday: 16 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 3000ft of gain. Same route as Thursday. The forecast for the mountains looked ominous, with "likely" thunderstorms (all but guaranteed) all day, morning to evening. Not wanting to risk my life for altitude training, I stuck around the home trails. After I finished up this morning a small thunderstorm rolled up from Denver - just in time.

Sunday: Off. Lots of research needed to get done today; I'm presenting a poster at our department's 50th anniversary next week and I just had what might be a breakthrough. In other words, I need to triple-check everything.

Mileage: 90 miles
Elevation gain: 16,750ft of gain

I feel pretty rested despite putting in, what is for me, a lot of mileage. I'd like to make this my "base" mileage and start pushing my peak mileage towards 120 mpw.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Week ending June 24

Monday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. The Foothills trail is closed so I'm relegated to Pineridge, which is a nice area but, well, no hills. It was searing when I went out at noon for the first run (smoke was all over the place in the morning). I've got a nice out-and-back thing where I take the access trail up to the Maxwell Open Space trailhead and hit the singletrack west of The Ponds. When life gives you lemons...

Tuesday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. I can't take much more of this. Part of my hate for the first route is that I have to run almost 2 miles on the side of the road. The Ponds loop is a little more bearable, if only because the singletrack trail is less than a mile from home.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. I want to stab something.

Thursday: 12 miles, Foothills and Reservoir Ridge trails, 2500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. Maxwell and Reservoir Ridge are open again, so I took advantage of that and the lack of smoke in town to squeeze a 12-miler in this morning. It feels good to be doing some climbing - I've missed that rough trail by the Laporte dam.

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Out-and-back to the Laporte dam with a big A tag on the way back. I'm dropping my mileage a bit today to get ready for tomorrow - mostly to catch up on eating. I hit a calorie deficit when running two-a-days and need a low-volume day to recover. Tomorrow is going to epic.

Saturday: 37 miles, 9500ft of gain, Tonahutu/North Inlet loop in Rocky Mountain National Park. Got up super early to escape the smoke from the High Park fire and the 100-degree heat in Fort Collins. The high country beckoned me, and I obliged.

 Heading north along the divide.

Takin' a ride on Tonahutu down into the valley below.

I've put the loop and elevation chart below. I started at Bear Lake at 5:30 in twilight and was greeted with fierce, freezing winds at the summit of Flattop Mountain along the Continental Divide. I turned north onto Tonahutu Creek Trail, running across Bighorn Flats above 12,000 feet before beginning a long, 10-mile descent to 8,500ft in Grand Lake. There were two moose bulls grazing just off the trail in Big Meadows - it's humbling to stumble across something that large. They gave me the once-over before chowing down again, instantly quelling my apprehension.

One of the bulls having breakfast.

About a mile later I rounded the base of a hill and saw, to my right, a moose cow standing 5 feet away. A large, downed tree separated us, and for a few seconds neither of us knew what to do. When I tried to slink away she galloped down the trail and turned to face me, no doubt getting ready to protect her calf. That was enough for me - I bushwhacked it around them and kept on my merry way to the Kanuweeche visitor center, where I refilled on water. By the time I hooked back up with the trail it was pushing 80 degrees. All I wanted to do was get back up to the tundra and out of the heat, mainly because I didn't want to get dehydrated before hitting the climb.

At the Tonahutu trailhead I turned onto the North Inlet trail, cruising through a relatively flat 4-mile stretch in just over half an hour. I finally hit thick forest as the trail linked up with the river, precariously snaking under rock ledges and scrambling over boulders. Every once in a while a breeze would pick up and push cool air off the river and onto the trail - such simple things feel so much better after five hours of running. The vegetation thickened and the humidity rose, my views of the river now blocked by hanging moss and underbrush. It was almost eerie running in complete shade so close to noon.

 If you can't tell, the trail was absolutely baking in the sun.

I hit the first set of switchbacks up to Flattop still feeling the heat, although as the trees thinned the gusts of cool wind grew stronger. Within an hour I was courting the treeline at about 10,500ft and was treated to expansive views of the river cascading over rock ledges, fed by the snowfields far above. The trail turned south toward the other side of the valley that the river - and no doubt a glacier in many years past - had carved. I took a minute at the river crossing to soak my feet and dip my hair.

The climb up from the river crossing to the Divide was one of the most brutal and awesome trails I've run. The grade rapidly increased, the trail narrowed, and the slope down into the valley sharpened. This latter fact made traversing the occasional snowfield that much more treacherous. Streams of melt water washed over the trail every few feet, the gusts of wind occasionally kicking up a spray.

Looking back at the climb up from Grand Lake (far in the distance) and the glacial runoff that forms the headwater of Hallet Creek.

The slope finally leveled out, with only 500 feet to gain in just under 2 miles to Flattop's summit. Every so often I'd lose the trail in the grey, washed-out tundra landscape, but with Hallet Peak as my guide I was never lost. I finally hit Flattop to find a group of hikers surveying a column of smoke near Estes Park. It turns out it was a cabin fire that eventually scorched around 20 homes.

 Columns of smoke - no longer an oddity.

Despite having put 34 miles and nearly 10,000 feet of vertical on my legs, I really enjoyed the steep descent into Bear Lake. The temperature soared once I dropped below treeline, and by the time I made it to the parking lot, it felt like I was running in a furnace. A cold beer has never tasted so good.

 Bear Lake (start/finish) on the right, Kawuneeche (water) on the left.

Sunday: Off.

Mileage: 96 miles
Elevation gain: 13,500ft

Weeks ending June 10 and June 17

Two week backlog, this time. I'm slowly getting back to once-a-week, but I've been busy with side projects, a new intern, and my department's upcoming 50th anniversary.

Monday: Off.

Tuesday: 12 miles, Foothills trail 2500ft of gain. The Foothills and Reservoir Ridge lollipop loop. I've got a little tweak behind my left knee that disappears after warming up a bit. I've had this before and have no idea what it is - some sort of nerve entrapment - but it usually goes away after a few weeks.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. My usual out-and-back to the Laporte dam, plus a tagging of the big A. Pretty nice morning, cool with a bit of a breeze. Summer running is upon us!

Thursday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. Headed out before sunrise so that I could get to work early, then squeezed in a run on the Foothills trail by the department (rather than hitting Reservoir Ridge). The climb south from the Laporte dam is really good training for the backside of Hope Pass - very rocky and steep.

Friday: 6 miles, Foothills trail 1000ft of gain. Tagged the big A and then tagged the shore of Horsetooth Reservoir before heading back. I need to start mixing my routes up a bit or else it gets boring.

Saturday: 6 miles, Foothills trail 1000ft of gain; 5K, Burning Can Beer Fest. I warmed up this morning with a repeat of yesterday. It was scorching on the way to Lyons for Burning Can, and by the time the race started just before noon, it was already over 90 degrees. The course was short at about 2.5-2.6 miles, which was pretty lame, but I finished a distant first place in 13:33. I figure that's worth a mid-16's 5K, which isn't bad for the insane heat. I tried to take water at mile 2 but my throat was so dry I couldn't get it down. Stuck around for the length of the festival and imbibed many cans of beer; I had no idea that Oskar Blues made such a kickass Scotch ale. We could see a pyrocumulus to the north during the festival, only realizing on the drive home that the foothills west of FoCo were on fire again.

Sunday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Somewhat smoky down in town but it was clear up on the ridge; this is "typical" when we have a fire, as the smoke settles in the low elevations. The fire exploded yesterday and today to something like 40,000 acres.

Mileage: 52 miles
Elevation gain: 8000ft

Monday: 6 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Smoky and nasty, what can I say? Today the smoke was in a thin layer between 5200-5400ft - rather odd.

Tuesday: Off.

Wednesday: 6 miles, Pineridge, 500ft of gain. Went to Dixon Reservoir and back as a tempo run to keep my leg speed up. Otherwise taking in easy!

Thursday: Off. Driving nine million miles through Wyoming to Sheridan.

Friday: Bighorn 100, DNF at Porcupine (mile 48). Talk about a blowup. I got sick to my stomach somewhere after Dry Fork and Cow Camp, and by Footbridge I had fluid coming out both ends. Every two miles or so I'd have to pull off to the side to puke, which was okay with me, or dig a cathole behind a tree, which got old fast. I pushed it on the climb up to the turn-around, hoping to use the well-staffed aid station to get revitalized. I was down 7 pounds when I arrived and spent the better part of four or five hours running to the outhouse and sipping on ginger ale. I stopped eating and drinking for an hour, which calmed things down, but by then I was completely trashed. I just called it. Apparently a lot of folks got sick over that same section - perhaps there was bad water or contaminated food somewhere along the route.

Saturday: Sitting at the finish, cheering everyone on and getting fluids and calories back in the system.

Sunday: 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. Back home and feeling fine. My legs are surprisingly fresh.

Mileage: 64 miles
Elevation gain: 9000ft

Monday, June 4, 2012

Week ending June 3

Monday: Off. Quads are a still sore from the marathon, but otherwise everything else feels fine.

Tuesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. I would be lying if I said that it took me a long time to warm up this morning. My quads felt very weak on the downhills this morning - not stiff, but sore and overstretched. Oh well, caught the north end of the Foothills trail by the department this afternoon and worked out some more of the soreness. Tweaked something in my right glute, perhaps some piriformis syndrome? It appeared suddenly toward the end of the run; stretching seems to be working it out.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain. The double-down, two repeats of my routine out-and-back on the Foothills trail. Still felt a little stiff and sore this morning, with a few odd tweaks in my glute again, but I'm almost good as new. Second run was better after sitting and rolling around on a tennis ball.

Thursday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 7 miles, Towers time trial, 2000ft of gain. Piriformis issues are gone and I felt refreshed on this morning's run around the usual loop. Smelled a skunk near the Laporte dam and made acquaintances with a rattle snake on the trail just north of the big A. It's like National Geographic around here. I went to the time trial not knowing what to expect, still feeling some quad soreness, but I managed to shave 29 seconds off my PR and run 29:30.

Friday: 14 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain. Did the Foothills trail/Reservoir Ridge lollipop route, with an extra loop thrown in at Reservoir Ridge. I felt really energized and knocked out the whole run in under 2 hours. I'm surprised that after a marathon and a full week of training, I can run that fast over such nasty terrain and still feel good.

Saturday: 36 miles, Horsetooth Mountain and Lory State Park, 7000ft of gain. I knew it was going to get hot by midday so I woke up extra early and got an hour of night running in before the early morning twilight. I did a riff on the Quad Rock course, with two summits of both Horsetooth and Arthur's Rock, and ran through the valley toward the end to get some heat training. The contrast in climate between the valleys and the mountains is wild - there was no wind in the valleys so they were absolutely baking, while the shade afforded by the trees and the steady wind kept the ridgeline cool.

Sunday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Slave to the mileage? Naw, I thought it would be fun to break my pattern and not take the day off after a long run. It was surprisingly therapeutic, waking me up from that post-long-run zombie state the morning after and loosening up my quads.

Mileage: 100 miles
Elevation gain: 19,000ft of gain

Welp, a high mileage week after laying down a fast marathon in Wyoming, and I don't feel trashed. I'm getting pumped for Bighorn. The next two weeks will be a hard taper into the race, with the Burning Can 5K (and the associated post-race libations) this coming weekend. Time to dust off the old XC spikes.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Wyoming Marathon

Myself, Scott, Jenn, and Sam lined up at the front of the pack in the bone-chilling wind at the start of the Wyoming Marathon on Saturday. The skies were clearing, the winds were picking up, and Scott was in his kilt – today, the Fort Collins Trail Runners would dominate the race.

The race started and someone in a red singlet shot off like he had a rocket in his shorts. Sam and I figured he was either a fast half-marathoner or gunning for the course record. Either way, we kept a conservative pace down the first hill, holding down second and third place as we were inevitably passed by the faster half-marathoners in the first 30 minutes. The dirt road passed streams, campgrounds, and rock outcroppings as we wound our way through the thick pine forest. Despite the natural wind break, the occasional gust would rip down to the surface and blast us with cool air. 

Not so minor side note: quite a lot of trees in the Medicine Bow National Forest have been attacked by the mountain pine beetle. In some stands, as many as half of the trees are that eerie purple-brown shade - shame.

 It's almost all uphill on the way back!

When we hit the 4 mile mark I latched onto the heels of a passing half-marathoner and started to pull ahead of Sam and Bud. As we cleared the forest and hit the rolling hills, we were buffeted by a fierce headwind. The last climb before the aid station and half marathon turn-around afforded some protection, and I used the opportunity to charge past the half-marathoner and push it to mile 7.

I was surprised when I didn’t see Jeremy from Team Nebraska turn around. He was running the marathon? I crossed under the overpass to the road on the windward side of the highway to see him off in the distance, and clocked him just over two minutes ahead of me. Out here, we were completely exposed, and gusts would push me off toward the ditch and suck the air out of my lungs. Word is that the sustained wind was between 25-35 mph, with gusts upwards of 45 mph. Nevertheless, by mile 11 I had whittled Jeremy’s lead to 30 seconds, but he held me off for the next 2 miles.

The twisting labyrinth of dirt roads, campgrounds, and trails through the Vedauwoo rocks threw me off. Or maybe it was just low blood sugar. Either way, I slowed down and lost sight of Jeremy until the turn-around. At 13.1 miles I was about twenty seconds back, at 1:30, and he was looking tired. I quickly refilled my bottle and charged into the long uphill back out of the Vedauwoo rocks to see Sam, Bud, and a few others within a minute of us. It was still a close race.

 Beautiful rocks weathered by the relentless wind. Photo by Rebecca Watson.

I passed Jeremy a couple of minutes past the turn-around and poured everything I had into the climb. I was greeted with a headwind when I crested the hill and had to fight that for another mile or so until turning toward the north. In spite of the strong gusts scraping over the plateau I pushed harder and widened the gap between first and second.

I took a quick moment at the ~20 mile mark to refill my water bottle from the jug left on the side of the dirt road. No frills means no frills. With just over six miles to go I was feeling great and I attacked the winding downhill back into Medicine Bow National Forest. When the road leveled out I was hit with a wave of fatigue and I could feel the burn starting in my quads. Mile 21 to 22 was the worst stretch, slightly uphill and endlessly winding through more campgrounds.

 Wide open skies and wide open lands. Photo by Rebecca Watson.

I finally crested a small hill and abruptly stumbled into the last aid station. 

“Any salt caps?”


Man, this was bad. I started with one S-cap and had that at the halfway point. Would that be enough to get me to the finish? I crammed salty chips into my mouth and hoofed off, singularly focused on preparing myself for the final climb. The next mile was a shallow uphill, and I blew through the crowd of runners and volunteers at the 5K finish. I started using half-marathoners as targets, sighting them in the distance and then picking them off as fast as I could. After a long straight stretch of dirt I looked back – no one in the distance. 

I slammed a gel before the second-to-last climb, knowing that I would need it to power into the finish. I let the hammer fall on this section, refusing to slow down. My calves were burning as I launched off my toes over the dirt rollers and followed the shortest line around the curves, trying to eke out precious seconds.

We used to run intervals over the rolling hills of our home course in cross country back in high school, and we were always reminded to “turn ten at the top” – to increase our speed over the crest of the hill so that we we’d be at full speed before the downhill even started. I’m not sure where the “ten” came from – maybe ten steps? At any rate, it was hard at mile 2.5 in a 5K to pull that off, but this was something else. I pushed so hard over the crest that I wheezed a little – breathing at 8,500ft late in a marathon can be tough.

 The calf burner at mile 25. Photo by Rebecca Watson.

I let gravity do its work on the short downhill and hit that last climb at top speed. No matter how tired you are, there is always one last ounce of strength left to kick it in. I started sprinting as soon as I saw the finish line in the distance and crossed the line in 3:06:46.

Sam took a commanding second, 12 minutes ahead of third place, and Scott took sixth, both PR’ing, and Jenn won the women’s race. All around a fantastic showing for the Fort Collins Trail Runners. I see a Fort Collins domination at Bighorn in the near future.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Week ending May 27

Monday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain; 4 miles, Reservoir Ridge, 750ft of gain. No more smoky haze from the Hewlett Gulch fire, so I didn’t have to suffer a burning throat over the first mile or two until getting to high ground. The IT-band feels great, which is to say, I can’t feel it at all. Ran from the department this afternoon and came across a rattler basking on one of the rocks. After taking a second to assess a way around him, he slithered off down the hill. 

Tuesday: 12 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain; 4 miles, Reservoir Ridge, 750ft of gain. Still felt fresh on the morning run today, more so over the last hour. It was really hot this afternoon, around 90 degrees, but there was a nice breeze to make it bearable. I think I’ll use these afternoon runs as heat training for Bighorn.

Wednesday: 12 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain. It was really hard to get out of bed today, and it took a good 4 miles until my muscles got warmed up – definitely a high mileage week!

Thursday: 12 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain; 4 miles, Reservoir Ridge, 750ft of gain. Tuesday redux. Felt a little more tired on the morning run today, but I always wake up before hitting the halfway point right in Reservoir Ridge. For the past few mornings, it’s pretty much been myself and the same few mountain bikers sharing the trails. The far end of the Foothills trail is quite lonely!

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. I’m considering a trip up to Wyoming to run the Wyoming Marathon. I’ll run it as a training race for Bighorn; I’d be running it in the midst of peak mileage weeks, and without the benefit of a taper I don’t really know what to expect. Took it nice and easy this morning and everything feels fine, so it’s looking like a go.

Saturday: Off. Drove up to Cheyenne for late registration at the pasta dinner and then crashed overnight in Laramie. 

Sunday: First place in the Wyoming Marathon in 3:06:46, ~1750ft of gain, all above 8,000ft in the beautiful Medicine Bow National Forest. Despite strong winds, I had an awesome race and laid down a time only a few minutes off the course record. I’d say I’m in prime condition for Bighorn. Report soon to follow.

Mileage: 90 miles
Elevation gain: 13,500ft of gain

This was an awesome week on all fronts: a successful research group presentation on Friday, a week of solid mileage, and I won my first marathon.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Training backlog: weeks ending May 6, 13, and 20

Like I said, I'm terrible. All of this is just transcribing from a journal, though. People still write things on paper, don't they?

Week ending May 6:

Monday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. I'm taking a somewhat hard taper into Quad Rock, so no two-a-days this week. Nice and cool this morning. Too cool...

Tuesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Some days I wish that overnight the Foothills trail would magically change its path across the ridge. There are all of these little nooks and rock ledges just waiting to be explored, but trail rules and rattlesnakes keep me from truly running free. Today was a mundane run so I had to make something up, sorry.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Running is turning into breakfast for me. I always eat the same breakfast, everyday: Barbara's Shredded Spoonfuls with almond milk, and a bowl of Greek yogurt with nuts, dried fruit, and flax. And every morning, I run the foothills trail out to the Laporte dam. I need a new schtick.

Thursday: 12 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain. Well, I can just tack-on the Reservoir Ridge loop, I guess. Got kind of hot so I regretted not taking a water bottle.

Friday: Off. Felt lazy so I biked to get coffee this morning in Old Town. Dynamics II take-home final was sent out this afternoon - my body is ready.

Saturday: 10 miles, Timber Trail and some Howard Trail, 2000ft of gain. Did a little bit of the QR course today, the part near the turn-around that I'm least familiar with. Put off working on the final to whip up some Oaxacan-style lentils for a chill Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Sunday: 10 miles, Timber Trail and some Howard Trail, 2000ft of gain. Same time, same place, felt much more confident on the Timber descent.

Mileage: 56 miles
Elevation gain: 9500ft of gain

Week ending May 13:

Monday: Off. Getting well-rested for Quad Rock.

Tuesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. I am not excited when my IT-band starts to get tight during a taper. I tried to stretch it out today, but whoah, it is rebelling like a teenager on caffeine. I hit the theraband for about an hour today to get it under control.

Wednesday: 10 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain. IT-band felt a bit better today, although the descent at my turn-around near the Laporte dam felt terrible. That's not a good sign, because the QR course is equally rocky and rough.

Thursday: Off. Nada. Stretching and such.

Friday: 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. IT-band is feeling better, although the day before it's still too tight for my liking. I'm going to have to take it out slowly tomorrow and give it time to warm up.

Saturday: 25 miles, 5500ft of gain, Quad Rock 25. Well, the IT-band held up until the bottom of Mill Creek, when it started to tighten on the first lap. The climb up Howard was fine, but as soon as I hit the first mile of the downhill on Timber I decided to just call it at the turn-around. I gave some stretching a shot at 25 miles but it felt like it made it worse. I'll take an eighth place finish in the 25-mile for going out at a 50-mile pace.

Sunday: Ah, no. Much stretching and ice massage.

Mileage: 47 miles
Elevation gain: 8500ft of gain.

Well, Quad Rock was disappointing, but I had to do it. Bighorn is one of my big goal races this summer, and I really couldn't take the chance of trashing my IT-band one month beforehand. If I would get to the race start at all, I wouldn't be in top form. Sometimes you just need to cut your losses and live to race another day.

Week ending May 20

Monday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain; 4 miles, Reservoir Ridge, 500ft of gain. Warmed up the IT-band this morning and followed that with a run out from my department. I guess I never thought about it before, but the Foothills trail is less than half a mile from my office. The IT-band was a little tight in the morning but the afternoon run felt fine. Strength training, stretching, and a massage late in the day seem to be loosening things up.

Tuesday: 12 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain. Did the lollipop loop this morning out at the Ridge and cruised along the Foothills trail. I'm doing some more mileage early this week as I'm heading to Berkeley for my brother's graduation this weekend.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. I'm a fan of the two-a-day, because I can use the morning as an easy run and then treat the afternoon one as a tempo run. I think speedwork is underrated in ultra training, especially when you incorporate hills.

Thursday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Got a run in this morning before heading to Berkeley late this afternoon. I spent extra time getting the IT-band loose so it doesn't get too tight on the plane ride. Sitting seems to aggravate it.

Friday: 8 miles, 1500ft of gain, Berkeley hills and Tilden Regional Park. I had no idea that there was such an awesome natural area/park situated above the Berkeley hills. The route from our rental house up to the hills was pretty awesome - a gradual uphill for a mile along Monterey, a 700ft+ half mile climb up the impossibly steep Marin Avenue (and past some damn nice houses), and then a nice contour run along Wildcat Canyon Road (pictured below). I'm impressed that there are such awesome running opportunities this close to town.

Congratulations to my brother on his Ph.D. from Berkeley's Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. It's been inspiring to watch him over the years. If it wasn't for him and my sister both continuing their education into graduate school, I may not have made that decision, either.

Wildcat Canyon Road. For road-running, this was actually pretty enjoyable...

...because the sunrise over Tilden is beautiful. 

Saturday: 8 miles, Berkeley hills and Tilden, 1500ft of gain. A similar route, but I found a faster way to get to the dirt trails in Tilden. My IT-band feels absolutely fine, now, which is encouraging. I mean, if it survives the downhill on Marin, it can survive pretty much anything. More pics:

 Eucalyptus stands - these guys are so fragrant and wonderful to run through. It's like running through a Vick's Vaporub factory.

Tilden 1 hour after sunrise. You can't get a clean panorama because the trees are so dense.

Sunday: Off, traveling home.

Mileage: 64 miles
Elevation gain: 8500ft of gain

Felt much better this week - the IT-band feels almost fully recovered, so I'll ratchet up the mileage next week.

Quad Rock 50...err 25

Oh man, talk about a late race report. The end of my first year in grad school was absolutely insane - a combination of some very hard coursework, making an hour-long presentation to the climate dynamics research group, and managing the design of a weather calendar. And then there was this whole running thing.

Well, some days you just need to take what you can get. I was originally entered in the 50 mile, but dropped down to the 25 mile after the first lap. I started tweaking my IT-band around mile 15, and it got progressively tighter especially on the Timber trail downhill. While it didn’t get very painful, I didn’t want to keep pushing it - I could have finished, yes, but my IT-band would have gotten stressed enough that I would not be able to run at Bighorn, one of my goal races this year. As it stands, this is something I can fix in one to two weeks with aggressive physical therapy and massage.

How did the race go, injury aside? Really awesome!

Minutes before the race start, the foothills emerged from the twilight with their peaks covered in a thick cloud not 500ft from the base. The air was humid and cool, just a little above freezing – perfect weather for racing. 

I joined the front pack as it raced out of the start and onto the meandering East Valley and Shoreline trails. There was a solid pack of 10 runners out front as we hit the first climb up Sawmill, Stout, and Towers. At this point, the pack settled out as some of the 25-milers pulled ahead with the lead 50-mile runners. I hooked onto the heels of Jason Koop up Towers and then followed Cory up to the Towers aid station.
Given the cool temperatures, I had barely touched my water and jumped right into the first downhill on Spring Creek. Man, was I feeling good here – I kept Cory in sight and fluidly cruised over rocks and around the turns. If I had to guess, I’d say we were keeping a sub-6:00 minute pace over some of the open stretches. I stopped to pee and was immediately passed by Jason again; this was a very tight group of runners out front, with a handful of runners always just behind you.

I basically ran through the Horsetooth aid station and climbed up South Ridge and most of the Horsetooth Rock Trail with Jason, letting him power ahead towards the top. I decided to throttle back a bit on Westridge and get myself prepped for the Mill Creek descent. There was a layer of snow and frost on the evergreen bushes at the top of the mountain, with views over the edge of the ridge obscured by the cloud. The whole race was like a scene out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I grabbed some water at Towers and eased into Mill Creek’s winding and drawn-out descent into Arthur’s aid station. It was here that I started to feel that familiar tightness in my glutes and IT-band, so I took it a little easier to see if that would help. I ran with Jacob for half of the descent and we stayed together for about a mile after Arthur’s. He pulled ahead on Howard but I kept chugging, ceding no ground to the runners in close pursuit. I actually pulled ahead a bit on the really technical portions and was done with the climb before I knew it.

The rolling mile on the dirt road to Timber was a nice break after Howard and allowed me to collect myself and assess whether or not I’d drop at 25 miles. My right glute was excessively tight and I could feel the IT-band tugging on my knee even on the gentle hills; while it wasn’t hurting yet I knew that I’d have to weigh continuing on and risking a blowout, or cutting my losses and having a shot at being ready for Bighorn. I decided to make it to the turnaround, try to get it stretched, and then make my decision.

No matter how you feel, Timber is always a fun trail. I thoroughly enjoyed the steep switchbacks and sketchy trails in the forest and opened up my stride on the long, flowing contour trails into Soldier Canyon.
At the aid station, one of the 25-mile finishers offered to help me out and taught me a few new stretches. He did some work on the right glute and my hips to loosen things up, but I could feel the IT-band tightening the more I hung around. I decided to just call it a day. For pacing myself for 50 miles, an 8th place finish in the 25 miler wasn’t terrible. 

I stuck around the rest of the morning and into the late afternoon to volunteer, which was really illuminating. Managing a race like this is, to use a cliché, a logistical nightmare. Major props to Nick and Pete for pulling off such a successful inaugural race. I don’t doubt that most runners will return next year because of the professional level of organization, if not for the course difficulty.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Week ending Apr 28

Monday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Threw in a two-a-day to see how the ankle/shin felt. There is still swelling but the pain level has dropped to about a 1/10. I can't feel it running uphill or on flats which is great.

Tuesday: 12 miles, Foothills trail, 2000ft of gain. Went out to Reservoir Ridge and back this morning since I had time. I'm moving later this week so I thought I'd get a medium-ish run in while I can. Ankle was fine until I finished the run, at which point it started swelling a bit.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 750ft of gain. Much less swelling today, in fact it was only noticeable after my afternoon run. Hopefully this is on its way out.

Thursday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain. Still some swelling but there isn't any pain, which is awesome. It seems like the tendinopathy has healed, and all that's left is some latent swelling. Running in 55 degrees in the morning - spring has definitely arrived.

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. I got up super early as I needed to deal with random meetings sprinkled throughout the day, and handling my move to my new condo. It is unfortunately half a mile farther from the trailhead as my old place, but I'm much happier with it overall. The extra distance at the start and end of the run is a nice way to force me to warm up and cool down.

Saturday: Off. Went all out today getting the new place in order and working on projects.

Sunday: 25 miles, Quad Rock course, 5500ft of gain. I did this in 4 hours - that meant no power-hiking, which was tough on Mill and Spring Creek. I also did the reverse loop, starting at Soldier Canyon with the climb up Timber, so that I'll be a bit more comfortable on that second lap. This is a brutal course, with little reprieve - only the stretch in the meadows at the start and end is a break from either rough terrain or steep hills. I enjoyed opening it up on Towers-Stout-Sawmill on the inbound portion of the loop - hopefully it feels just as good in the midday heat after running 40 miles.

Mileage: 77 miles
Elevation: 14,500ft of gain

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Week ending Apr 21

Monday: 6 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Still felt some fullness in the leg this morning, so I was anxious to get to CSU's physical therapy office. I had some Graston massage done and was taught a few new exercises/stretches. The massage was pretty wild - they use metal instruments with tapered edges that induce microtrauma, basically breaking up scar tissue. My sore leg's tendon sheath was pretty bumpy; as a point of comparison, the right (perfectly healthy) leg's tendon sheath was smooth.

Tuesday: Off.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Feeling much better today, although I had to work to avoid stressing the anterior compartment too much. That involves a serious forward lean and avoiding uneven surfaces.

Thursday: 10 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain. Tried to go a little farther today and felt about the same as the run yesterday, so I suppose that means running isn't making things worse!

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Feeling a little better than yesterday, although there is still notable fullness, especially running downhill. Went in again for another session of Graston and other work, which felt great. I also got taped up with some KT tape.

Saturday: 20 miles, Horsetooth Mountain, 3500ft of gain. Two big loops up Horsetooth with some minor climbs and diversions thrown in the mix. The tape, along with ibuprofen, helped a ton - I felt no pain or fullness at all during the run, and only a little fullness and swelling post-run. Weather was fantastic, with temperatures in the 50's at the start and near 70 by the time I finished.

Sunday: Off.

Mileage: 52 miles
Elevation gain: 8000ft of gain

Slowly getting back into the swing...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Week ending Apr 15

Monday: Off; did some serious self-massage that seemed to help. Also saw a physical therapist who used to work for t he Florida Gators - he clearly knows his ankle injuries. No sprain, just suspected compartment syndrome; it wasn't bad enough that he thought a pressure test was necessary. He mentioned that the muscles on the anterior-lateral aspect of my shin are much larger than "average", so the compression sleeves may just be too tight down there and could have encouraged swelling and restricted circulation - a perfect recipe for compartment syndrome.

Tuesday: Off and traveling back home.

Wednesday: Off. The self-massage is helping quite a bit; I can feel the fascia loosening up and the feeling of tightness/fullness in the compartment is dissipating. Biking feels pretty good, so if I can't get back to running immediately then I can just hit the roads.

Thursday: 2 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. Did a little shake-out run to focus on my form and test the waters with my shin - just some fullness/tightness in the skin, but no real pain. It was a little stiff afterwards.

Friday: Off. Got in a nice 1.5 hour ride this morning and then cruised around town in the evening.

Saturday: 4 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Went up and tagged the big A. I felt some fullness/tightness around the second mile, but after that it dissipated and felt pretty good. Went up again in the afternoon for an out-and-back to the reservoir shore. The compartment didn't feel any different on this run so presumably running isn't making it worse. I'll give the group run at Lory/Horsetooth a shot tomorrow and just see how I feel - I'm planning on cutting it off after an hour, but we'll see.

Sunday: 12 miles, Valley trails/Sawmill/Stout/Towers in Lory and Horsetooth, 1000ft of gain. Tagged along with the Quad Rock 50 preview group for about an hour and then headed back. The wind was nasty but at least it wasn't too cold. The compartment felt a little tight/full at the end of the run, but overall I was impressed with how it held up. Less than a week ago I couldn't make it 2 miles without the compartment seizing up, so it's clearly getting better.

Mileage: 22 miles
Elevation gain: 3500ft

Artist du jour.

Compartment syndrome is not something to mess with. However, I've had it once before in the anterior compartment after a 50 miler, and I've found that alternating heat and ice with a lot of self-massage can clear it up in 2-3 weeks. I've been massaging up the compartment and doing some cross-compartment digging to loosen up the fascia and clear the swelling. The blunt end of a Sharpie does wonders.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Week ending Apr 8

Monday: Traveling back home. Resting, eating, drinking lots of water.

Tuesday: Resting, eating, drinking slightly less water. The foot swelling has gone down and I'm back to my normal weight - no more cankles!

Wednesday: Resting, eating a bit less, left shin is still a little sore.

Thursday: Resting, left shin soreness is dissipating.

Friday: Sports massage today, which actually went quite well. My quads and hamstrings are great, calves a little less so, peroneal muscles are absolutely knotted to hell so I'll be going back for those sometime soon. I had the masseuse work on my left shin, which seems to have helped. It's remained swollen and makes dorsiflexion/running motion a bit painful, but it has been getting better with ice and compression. My calf sleeves taper right over the anterior muscles with a tight "lip", which may have irritated them. Either that or it's a mild strain of one of the extensor muscles.

Saturday: Off to visit family.

Sunday: Off.

Mileage: Nada.
Elevation gain: Nada.

Biking to work has helped loosen most things up. After making the mistake one too many times before, I'm in no hurry to rush back to training and force anything. I've got plenty of time before Quad Rock to heal my shin. It actually may be a blessing in disguise - normally I'd be working my mileage back up and asking for an overuse injury at this point.

I've had my left shin looked at - I likely had some minor compartment syndrome towards the end of the race; right now just some minor tendonitis in an extensor tendon. I'll probably resume running tomorrow or Thursday and see how that feels.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Badger Mountain Challenge 100

A great ultrarunner once said, “In running such long and taxing distances [ultrarunners] answer a call from the deepest realms of their being – a call that asks who they are…” 

We are indifferent to driving wind and rain that needles our face and chills our lips blue. 

We indulge in 100 miles of foot-grinding terrain, bushwhacking along ridges and gingerly striding over rock cobbles.

We visit emotional extremes, from the uplifting camaraderie in the pitch black night to the anguish we feel as we stare, alone, at another mountain demanding a summit in the wee hours of the morning. And we love every minute of it.

We are a little crazy.

Stark landscapes and injurious trails. Yes, you run on these rocks. Photo by Scott McMurtrey.

Badger Mountain is a hard race. The surface ranges from rock-laden silt trails and rock-studded jeep track to rugged bushwhack and tilled fields of wheat and alfalfa. The elevation gain is over 18,000ft, with beasts like the McBee Ridge 30%+ grade calf killer, to rolling ridgelines that let you open up your stride – at least in the first half of the race. You have to be a navigator with a sharp eye for reflective tape and a keen awareness of the terrain.

It’s a bit more than a trail race.

 Lining up at the start...

...and off into the rain. Photo ©2012 Glenn Tachiyama.

As we crested Badger Mountain just over a mile from the start, we were buffeted by wind and piercing rain. I immediately regretted not taking a waterproof jacket. Thankfully, the worst of it was mostly constrained to the top of the first three peaks – Badger, Candy, and Red Mountains.

 After getting our faces torn off on top of Badger.

Unfortunately, we were hit hard running the full 2+ mile length of Red Mountain by extremely gusty wind that chilled our soaked bodies to the core. I was running with Terry Sentinella and Shawna Tompkins, and we missed the turn off to the Foxhill aid station and ended up bushwhacking it down through someone’s pasture and a barbed wire fence – reminiscent of the downhill to Yakitat last year.

Compression, compression everywhere.

By this point, I was absolutely frozen, with my hands unable to open gel packets. I inhaled a huge muffin at Foxhill and trudged with Terry and Shawna toward McBee through the bushwhack on the north side of Red and along the contour trail, pulling ahead on the road as I was eager to get out of my wet clothes and slip into my rain jacket and a dry shirt. The downpour had stopped but I knew the wind up on the ridge would be strong. Within a few minutes I left the aid station and blasted up the steep climb up McBee Ridge, taking a moment at the top to catch my breath before launching into the long series of rolling downhills toward Chandler Butte.

 Headin' out from McBee Parking.

By the butte I had pulled into the lead, having left McBee before Terry and Shawna, and decided to just roll with it and see how long I could hold it. I was feeling okay and, knowing how painful the return trip on cobbled rock and bushwhack can become, decided to take advantage of it. The dirt road past Chandler was slick with a layer of mud from the morning’s rain, turning downhill running into more of a skating motion. The transition from jeep road to bushwhack along the edge of the ridge above last year’s Yakitat aid station reminded me of why I returned to this race – with panoramic views over treeless terrain, you feel so small, and running off trail, you really become connected to the scenery.

I ended up arriving at 221 and Lincoln Road aid stations just as the aid stations had set up. I actually beat my crew to 221 and decided to carry on toward Lincoln, rather than wait and waste time. I spent the next hour or so salivating over the tuna sub that they’d have waiting for me.

 As you can see, I do a jig when I eat pizza.

The section between Lincoln and the turnaround was arduous, although at least the weather had improved. The bushwhack on the ridge takes you over some prominent, rolling hills; the loose soil of the tilled fields saps your energy with every step you take, and the occasional sections of short grass bushwhack were filled with rocks – not much of a consolation. 

Within a couple of miles I stumbled abruptly onto a dirt road that dropped off the edge of the ridge to the right at an obscene angle – and of course saw a green flag twenty feet from the summit marking my fate. I spent the next 15 minutes cruising down a steep, twisting dirt road that dumped out into the basin below and led to a gravel road up to the Grow residence, our turnaround aid station at the top of a small hill.

At this point, I finally caved in and decided to change my socks, which were still wet from the morning rain. I chowed down on another sub sandwich, rehydrated, and started the climb just as Shawna and a pack of runners in close pursuit hit the bottom. 

The climb was steep and long – and I loved every minute of it. I still had strength to jog the shallow uphill sections, and I took the time to peer out over the sedge and tumbleweeds from the switchbacks. The last two steep uphill sections were absolute killers. According to Google Earth, both were greater than a 40% grade - youch. I almost felt like I could fall backward at any moment. At this point I started having trouble taking deep breaths, occasionally wheezing and coughing, but I didn’t really give it much attention.

 Getting broth at Lincoln Road (inbound) at mile 50.5.

Heading down the ridge into Prosser from Lincoln Road; just a bit windy.

I high-tailed it to Lincoln and bombed down the road toward Highway 221 for the ascent to the 221 aid station. The downhill on pavement was a bit jarring, but it was a nice break from having to work my shins and calves to keep myself upright over the rough off-trail sections on the ridge. I was able to keep a pretty good pace up to 221, although I could have done without the cars whizzing by at 50mph.

It's here that I realized I'd made the 50 mile mark faster than I've run most 50 mile races.

I zoned out as soon as I hit the aid station. I had been reduced to shallow, rapid breaths, as breathing without wheezing had become a chore. I was also losing my appetite. I worked down broth and a quesadilla and did my best to cough up the mucus that had probably dripped back into my lungs during the cold, rainy hours after the start. Shawna pulled in as I saddled up my pack and focused my mind on the worst section of the course.

It's 11 miles to Chandler, and then 9 miles to McBee Parking, between miles 58 and 78, and it is the most exposed and desolate stretch of the run. After a few miles on the rolling bushwhack, I had rid myself of nausea and hacked up most of the fluid that was causing me to wheeze earlier. Shawna closed the gap between us over 9 miles as the sun disappeared behind the cloudy horizon and dusk settled on the ridge. She caught up to me about 2 miles out from Chandler, and I started filling her in on the rest of the course. I asked her how she felt and she said, “You know what? Not bad. Nothing is really hurting.” And for the first time this far into a race, I had to agree. 

We finally turned our lights on 5 minutes out from Chandler – both of us had wanted to make it to the aid station before nightfall. Rusty and the motorcycle crew were there to greet us with a warm fire, while the aid station guys huddled in a large trailer refilled our packs and loaded us up with food. I grabbed a few glazed donuts for the road and we set out for McBee Ridge into the pitch black night. 

The wind picked up and the temperature plummeted as Shawna and I stumbled up and down the sharp rock cobbles of the jeep trail east of Chandler Butte. The footing was unstable, as our numerous near-face plants could attest, and the rocks dug into our feet, but we were more focused on trying to stay warm and just make it off the ridge. We talked for a while, bitching about all manner of things – anything to keep our minds sharp.
We finally made it to McBee Ridge where I dropped a red glowstick on the right fork of the trail to remind the runners behind us that they were supposed to continue on the ridge, rather than drop immediately down to McBee Parking. The jeep trail to the turnoff is a little more manageable – silt with loose rocks – but it was still damn cold and windy. It felt like an eternity until we came upon the radio tower and the array of reflective markers leading to the abyssal drop off the north side of the ridge.

The steep downhill stressed my knees and my shins, but we both did our best to let gravity do its work and take us to the bottom. From there, it was a pleasant stroll back to McBee through the gullies.

I needed to take a minute at McBee to reorient myself and recover, while Shawna took a quick shot of Ensure and pushed on to Orchard. I walked into the tent and within a minute was feasting on grilled cheese, oatmeal, and hot chocolate. I left for Orchard but, upon reaching the base of Goose Ridge, noticed that the battery light on my headlamp was flashing. That usually gives me an hour, at most, of light – and with nearly two hours to Dallas Road, I could not take the chance. I had to double back to McBee and meet my crew to get a replacement headlamp. At this point, I realized that my chances of catching Shawna had probably vanished, but I was still in good spirits. Lesson learned: always carry spare batteries with you.

The jeep trails to Orchard and then to the edge of the Goose Ridge Winery really kick you when you’re down. There is no reprieve as they steeply ascend and descend in 50-100ft bursts. There was still plenty of mud from the rain earlier in the day, and I landed on my butt a few times sliding downhill. I gingerly lowered myself to the Orchard aid station, as my feet had been chewed up by the rocks on the ridge. I was doing my best to conserve them for the final miles.

The jaunt through the edge of the winery was a nice break from the rolling jeep trail, although it felt like I was zig-zagging forever. The course markings here were fantastic so I only had to worry about moving forward. Leaving the winery, I hit Jacobs Road and rolled on down to Dallas Road.

I hadn’t eaten nor had much to drink over the last section, leaving me light-headed and drained by the time I made it to the tent. Broth and some gel chews woke me up and within minutes I was out on the Dallas Road loop, stumbling through alfalfa fields trying to follow reflective flags dancing in the wind.

I was following the field edge and, after a while, realized I hadn’t seen a flag in a long time. I soon saw a reflective flag far in the distance and thought I was on course, following them past an orchard around the back and up the east side of the hill. I would lose the course again and ended up dinking around for nearly 1.5 hours. It could well have been mental fog from not eating and drinking enough on the previous section that caused me to miss the flags – something that is entirely my own fault.

I rolled into Dallas Road at a good clip rather pissed off at myself, but I was looking forward to the 2+ mile stretch on Jacob’s Road to the culvert to eat and try to put some distance on the pack of runners that started the Dallas loop just as I finished. Candy and Badger Mountain, their silhouette peaks highlighted by the glow of the Tri-Cities reflecting off the clouds, taunted me from across the freeway. They moved past in slow motion until I finally saw a smattering of reflective flags off in the distance. I picked up the pace, dropped down into the ditch, and entered the long, dark culvert.

My headlamp reflected off of the corrugated metal and bathed the culvert in bright light. Mice scurried around as I plodded through the mud and standing water. I had to laugh at how ridiculous this was – running through a drainage pipe at 4 in the morning. The culvert ended abruptly, dumping me into the darkness right at the base of Candy Mountain.

Sliding backward on loose soil, stumbling over rocks, and finally using my hands to scramble upward, I struggled alone to the top of Candy Mountain. The sharp rock cobbles on the jeep track down the other side chewed my feet, but I gritted my teeth and pushed on – the faster I get this other with, the less I’ll have to suffer. I struggled to find my way through the winding, diverging jeep and single track trails at the base of Candy Mountain; the flags didn’t have reflective tape and my eyesight was getting fuzzy.

The cups sort of blurred together at this point; I wasn't even sure I could taste what I was drinking.

I hit the West Badger aid station with an empty mind and just over three miles to go. It took me a minute to realize that I should drink something, and when my crew offered to take my hydration pack and give me a handheld, I gave an emphatic “no!” Like a child refusing to give up his blanket, I couldn’t let go of the one thing I’d been running with the entire race.

Time sped up, and before I knew it, I had made it to the top of Badger Mountain. I rounded the radio towers and started my descent toward the finish on the long, windy single track to Trailhead Park. With a shallow grade and just a few switchbacks, I was finally able to pick up some speed. Every time I’d round a contour, I could see the lights at the finish, only to watch them disappear as the trail doubled-back on itself. 

Jumping down the steps at the base of the mountain, I smiled and savored the final seconds of the race as I cruised toward the banner above the finish line. 21:59, second place, with many donuts, Ensure, and sub sandwiches consumed. 

Thank you:
-Aid station folks and Rusty and the motorcycle crew for toughing it out in the wind and rain and making sure everyone was hydrated and well-fed. 
-Miranda for several of the above photos.
-Brandon for designing a brutal course. Anyone that completes it should be proud, especially after this year's brutal weather.
-My crew, Gordon and Terry, for taking care of me and making sure I didn't do anything too stupid.
-Landowners, for letting us run on your property. Special thanks to the farmers with land on top of the ridge and the landowners on Candy and Red Mountains. Those are some of the most beautiful views on the course.

4 points for UTMB down, 3 to go.

Just beautiful.