Saturday, February 25, 2012

Week ending Feb 25

Sunday: Off. Took a mid-morning flight back to Denver and then survived the gauntlet that is northbound I-25.

Monday: 4 miles, Dixon Reservoir, 500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Did two short shake-out runs to loosen up. Lots of delayed-onset muscle soreness in my calves and glutes, but nothing feels "bad". Felt much better on the second run, especially using the Bare Grips. They are awesome on the slush and mud mix that forms later in the day.

Tuesday: 6 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Dixon Reservoir, 500ft of gain. I felt comfortably sore in my glutes on the climb up the ridge this morning, otherwise all seems to be well. There is still quite a bit of snow and ice, so I took my microspikes with me - very good choice. It's basically solid ice on the ridge.

Wednesday: Off. I planned another rest day for tomorrow, but downslope winds started last night and kept temperature in the 40's. I don't even want to know how muddy the trails got. As strange as that sounds, coming off a particularly muddy year at Hagg Lake, foothills mud is a much more sinister beast. It's a "dry", dense mud that accumulates on your shoes and kills your traction, and even an inch of the stuff will slow you to a crawl. Contrast that with PacNW mud, which is slick and waterlogged. Amazingly, while the Bare Grips did a pretty good job in the deep mud at Hagg, they are weak sauce around here.

Thursday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. I played detective this morning - on cresting the ridge west of Prospect Road, and following the Foothills trail a few hundred feet north, I came across a sedan that ploughed into a boulder. I looked inside through the tinted windows, but in the morning light couldn't see much; I knocked on the window, and someone laying down on the passenger seat looked up at me, shooed my with their hand, and covered up their face with a blanket (what?) Assuming they were okay, I followed the tire tracks back up to Centennial Drive (the tracks were still visible on the road as it snowed last night). It looks like the driver made a few attempts to line up the car before putting the pedal to the medal and driving off the road, down the ~50ft embankment, and onto the trail. They reversed, reoriented the car, and proceeded to drive (on the single track trail!) until they hit the boulder and basically totalled the car - the front end was completely crushed. I finished my run and then called it in as an abandoned vehicle. Stolen, joy-ridden, and then crashed? And they camped out inside? Of course I had to come back on an afternoon run to check it out. The car was gone, but I could see double-tire tracks leading from the former site of the wreck to Centennial Drive, so it looks like a tow-truck went off-road to pick it up. The second run of the day was chilly - cold bora winds picked up by the time I reached the turn-around, not a good time to be wearing shorts.

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Took it easy this morning on the frozen mud and ice - it was patchy enough that I left the microspikes at home. It was moderately warm for a winter morning, a nice prelude to the mess in the afternoon. The second run of the day necessitated the Bare Grips, but even they had trouble on that sticky red Colorado mud. A nice northerly wind set up and gave me a few Arctic blasts to the face.

Saturday: 12 miles, Horsetooth Mountain, 2000ft of gain. My cardinal rule is not to do a long run in the week proceeding a race. The race is a big training stimulus and, more than that, can set you up for injury if you don't take time to recover (doing a very long run the weekend after the White River 50 two years ago sidelined me for the rest of the season, as I quickly developed IT-band issues). Anyway, it was cold at the base but rather warm and windy up top. The Westridge trail was completely snowed in, with drifts up to 2 feet in some places. I lost the trail (as did the other diverging footprints) and spent a while fumbling around the mountain. The ice on top was strong enough in some areas to allow me to run on top of the snow.

Mileage:  54
Elevation gain: 10,500ft
Time: 8 hours

I'm feeling pretty solid after an easy week post-Hagg Lake. That's crucial, because the next three weeks I'll be ramping up the mileage and long run distance - hopefully hitting just under 100 miles per week and doing a 5-hour run in the third week. After that I'll taper for two weeks into the Badger Mountain Challenge 100.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hagg Lake 50K - 7/232, 4:04:38

As we spilled onto the steep, muddy downhill just after the climb out of Scoggins Creek, I turned to Kevin Hutchins and said, “Let’s do this.” 

We were in eighth and ninth place, both running on fumes. Breathing hard and finding it increasingly difficult to stay upright in the shoe-sucking mud, I dug deep for the last two miles, finishing strong in 7th in 4:04:38, less than 20 minutes back from winner and Olympic trials qualifier Ryan Bak.

Last year I finished 42nd in just over five hours, well behind the lead pack. My performance this year surprised even me, because I often felt that I was balancing on the edge of a razor, one step away from burning out. At the same time, I was so focused that nothing fazed me – not the wild swings between sunshine and rain nor the multiple falls on slick footbridges...

Lining up at the start, I told myself that I wasn’t going to hold back. The clouds and drizzle rolled in just as the pack took off on the out-and-back gravel road, and I settled into 20th place on the way up the hill. I really opened it up on the way down, managing to work my way into ninth just before the start of the first lap around the lake.

 Sliding down Mac Forest Hill. © 2012 Glenn Tachiyama.

After taking a hard fall on the first footbridge, I slowed it down a bit to get focused. I got into a groove early on, working my way through the twisting forest trail and skating down the slick hills in a solid pack that was chasing the front-runners. I knocked back a gel just before the dam aid station and grabbed some fig Newtons to go.

By Tanner Creek I was still feeling solid, albeit with some occasional rumbles in my stomach, but had slid back to eleventh. I figured a salt cap would settle everything down, and I spent the next several miles reeling in the two runners that had passed me shortly after the dam. This is easily the worst part of the course, with deep, shoe-sucking mud and stretches of trail inundated with water – the perfect time to surge ahead. As we emerged from the trail leading into the main parking lot at Sain Creek, I made my way back into seventh and finished the first lap in 2:03. I did a quick exchange with my crew and began the “real” race.

 On the way to the damn.

 Hey mom!

Real for two reasons: (1) after a light rain and the feet of 250+ runners, the mud was churned and the trail was an absolute mess, and (2), now was when those little annoyances would blow up into big problems. The rumblings in my stomach were getting more intense, but I kept up the pace into the dam aid station. Soon after leaving, things started to slide downhill. I was getting cramps in my stomach, and by the time I hit the grass fields on the north side of the lake, I started to feel that faint, bitter taste in the back of my throat that can only mean one thing. I finally had to stop on the trail, grab my knees, and hurl. 

Just then, Dan Olmstead and another runner crested the hill behind me and asked if I needed anything. “A salt cap…” I’m sure the last thing Dan wanted to do during this race was stop and help me out, but he really saved me out there. I broke open the pill, dumped salt on my tongue, and jumped right back into it, chasing Dan’s heels for the next mile. I was finally able to sip water again.

 Just after hurling... © 2012 Glenn Tachiyama.

 ...but feeling great! Hang loose Glenn! © 2012 Glenn Tachiyama.

This little episode barely cost me any time, but in hindsight, I’m amazed at how little it affected me psychologically. Like I said, nothing was fazing me out there, and the only thing I could think about was pushing the pace. 

I had to take a minute at Tanner Creek to collect myself, snacking on a few pretzels and chips to try to settle my stomach before the final push to the finish. Just as I was leaving, Kevin rolled into the aid station and would soon catch up to me just before Scoggins Creek. We both stumbled through the morass in the miles after Tanner – tufts of field grass and mounds of thick clay swamped with water from the previous week’s torrential rains. At this point, with tired legs and a trail torn up after the first lap, we started slipping backward down a few of the hills. 

As we hit the short road section leading up to the Scoggins Creek bridge I pulled up alongside of him. Both of us ran into salt and hydration issues on the second lap and were feeling the burn in our legs, the wind and rain was starting to pick up, and we still had two tough miles to go. As we cleared the bridge and prepared to turn onto the trail, Kevin gave me the signal to take the lead.

My stomach was still unsettled and my mind was drifting a bit, but my legs were feeling strong – and that’s all I needed to know. I pushed hard down the last few rolling hills and switchbacks, putting some distance between us and getting within sight of the seventh-place runner. I picked up the pace and told myself it was time to rip this up.

I bounded through the muck, whipping my feet out of the mud before they had a chance to sink in, and worked my way into seventh just before scrambling up the hill into the parking lot. Within a few strides, I had shed the mud from my shoes and caught glimpses of the finish. My calves and quads were on fire, but I picked up the pace again – I knew I had enough in me to redline it for another quarter mile.

Hitting that last twisting section of trail gave me a final rush of adrenaline. My mind cleared but my vision narrowed, and it was as if everything was happening in my mind like a dream – a totally surreal experience. Suddenly I was floating, bounding over roots, flying over the finish line, and then landing in the gazebo wrapped in a space blanket. I collapsed onto a bench to catch my breath and ease my tired lungs, and I could feel my calves and ankles seizing up, rewards from just barely holding on for the past two hours.

Reality is...

...about to...

...hit. Is this the real life?

Kevin and I recounting our exploits over the past few miles.

I have never raced that hard before. Hagg Lake is an exceptionally difficult race – the mud, especially on the second lap, is totally demoralizing, and this year the competition was fierce with some big names in the field. 

Fatigue can drain and consume you in an ultra, but I realize now that it's only if you let it happen. I’m not sure if it was confidence, or focus, or what, but I took that fatigue and turned it around. When I was feeling tired, I pushed harder and never thought twice. 

There was a point in the race where I was running alone - I didn't see another runner in front of or behind me between mile 17 and mile 25. I took a few seconds every now and then to pan around at the scenery and take in the lake, the lush underbrush, and the towering pines. It kept me in the moment.

There's an involuntary effect in these races where you don't think about the past or the present - you only know the now. You lose your sense of self, and you don't even realize it at the time. It's the best kept secret of the ultrarunning community.

You race to become no one; it's then that you're freed to truly run.

© 2012 The LongRun Picture Company

Week ending Feb 18

Sunday: Off.

Monday: 8 miles, Centennial Drive, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Centennial Drive, 1000ft of gain. Two bouts on Centennial, as the trails are still treacherous and I'm not ready to take the risk of an acute injury before the race. I absolutely destroyed the afternoon run, completing it in a cool 26 minutes. I like having an intense run after I get back from the bike ride home - it's a nice way to get some extra energy for doing work in the evening.

Tuesday: 8 miles, Centennial Drive, 1500ft of gain. Felt a little stuffy in the nose this morning but that cleared out as soon as I hit the cold pavement. I finished feeling a little hotter than normal, and I was definitely not overdressed for 15 degrees and windy. Started feeling like crap later in the day and had to go home early - yep, it's a cold.

Wednesday: Off. Feel terrible, very bad congestion in my sinuses, pounding headache, but thankfully no fever. I slept during the day and skipped out on classes and work.

Thursday: Off. Feel better than yesterday, but I need to kick this before the race. I pulled a half day at the department - just classes and then an hour of research.

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 2000ft of gain. The bad congestion has subsided, so now I'm just dealing with a little latent stuffiness. I worked out a lot of it on the run. Then I hopped in the car and drove the Friday rush to DIA for my flight to Portland. Arriving at around 8pm, the re-pressurization on the descent knocked out the last remnants of congestion in my sinuses. I'm feeling good and ready to rip that mud up tomorrow - thanks to rest and sinus flushes.

Saturday: 31 miles, 3000ft of gain, Hagg Lake 50k. 7th place in 4:04:38, an hour faster than last year. Race report incoming.

Mileage: 59
Elevation gain: 9000ft
Time: 7.5 hours

I just barely recovered from the cold in time for the race. Maybe it was the forced rest on Wednesday and Thursday that gave me so much energy on Saturday.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Week ending Feb 11

Sunday: 10 miles, Horsetooth Mountain, 2000ft of gain. Whoah, were the trails rough today. Fort Collins was hit by snow Thursday night into Friday, and it looks like nobody hit the trails at Horsetooth. The only trail that was remotely navigable was the ascent up to Horsetooth Rock - I did that, plus some insane trailblazing through 1-2 foot snowpack. I wasn't running so much as shuffling for about 5 of these miles; I managed to carve out parts of the Westridge and Wathan trails at the top of the mountain, but without a shovel, those aren't going to clear out until next weekend.

Monday: 8 miles, foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. A very long morning run - 8 miles in compacted snow is a workout. The trail past the first climb - maybe 1.5 miles in - disappears into the snow, so I spent today carving it out. I know the trail well, but there was also a visible depression in the snowpack that I followed as a guide. Basically, this morning's workout was like turning the resistance on an elliptical up to the max. I did the afternoon run in twilight - very cool because I got to get up close to the local deer family. The snow is rather disorienting after sunset.

Tuesday: 8 miles, foothills trail, 1500ft of gain. I am probably one of three people that are running these trails. It didn't look like there were any footprints - other that mine from yesterday morning - more than two miles into the foothills trail. Thus, more slow-motion, resistance training. 5 degrees and a light wind meant that my feet, buried in the snow for over an hour, were much warmer than my gloved hands.

Wednesday: 8 miles, foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 6 miles, Centennial Drive (borders the east side of the reservoir), 1000ft of gain. It looks like some more people have ventured onto the trail, but it's still a slow slog. The paths through the snow have been churned and frozen into an icy mess - my ankles were rolling left and right on the uneven surfaces. I decided to forgo the trails for my second run today and hit the road that parallels the reservoir. I ran on Overland before turning west on Dixon Canyon Road for the steep climb up the ridge (20% grade at times), then heading south for the out-and-back. My pace was a comfortable 6:45 per mile - this is good...

Thursday: Off.

Friday: 10 miles, Centennial Drive, 1500ft of gain, 4 miles, Centennial Drive, 1000ft of gain. The trails looked exceptionally bad - it's not the fact that it's packed snow and ice, it's that so few people have gone running on them that the surface is so incredibly uneven. I'm not taking any risks with a rolled ankle with a race next week, so I've decided to stick with the scenic highways for now. This was actually a really fun run - I went north along Centennial, straddling the reservoir and the ridge. My pace on roads is way faster than last year, before factoring in the elevation gain. I did this morning's run in 1:08; even giving myself a good pace on the uphills, I have to be dipping into the 5-minute-per-mile range on the steep downs. The afternoon run was pretty fast, as well, although that was more out of necessity - the snow was starting to fall and visibility was diminishing fast. Not a good time to be on the shoulder of a highway.

Saturday: 14 miles, Centennial Drive, 2500ft of gain. This was the morning after another snowfall, so I laced up the Bare Grips for another road run. The snow was about 4-6in deep and fluffy, though the packed snow in the tire treads was a lot easier to run on - definitely not conditions suited for microspikes. Temperatures ranged from subzero at the south end of Bellvue (north of the reservoir in a valley) to 5-10F near the reservoir shore. There was a light northerly wind wafting advection fog onshore, and the snow was still falling, albeit weakly. The tire tracks told tales of carnage, and I witnessed a couple of wipeouts as folks attempted the steeper uphills.

Miles: 72
Elevation gain: 13,500ft
Time: 11 hours

The snow this week really killed my pace, but that's actually fine - when you're running through knee-deep snow you get a workout even if you're moving at jogging pace. This was my medium-mileage-no-long-run week before the race, and it was quite refreshing. Next week - taper!

 South ridge fire road...or rather, snow chute.

 My attempt at being artistic.

 Wathan trail. No really, it's there, just under some snow.

 Knee-deep snow. Elliptical resistance: maximum.

 Looking north from the rock.

 Long's Peak in the distance, past the winter wonderland below.

 The highest point on Horsetooth Mountain. Status: summitted.

 The highest point in Sprouts' parking lot. Status: summitted.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Week ending Feb 4

Sunday: Off. Got some work done which gave the day a semblance of productivity.

Monday: 12 miles, foothills trail, 2500ft of gain. It's my easy week, but that doesn't mean I don't have to give up my favorite route. Felt really good by the time I got on top of the ridge and really cruised on the west side of Reservoir Ridge. Nice warm-ish day, with temperatures near and above freezing (warm by clear January morning standards).

Tuesday: 8 miles, foothills trail, 1500ft of gain. Feeling a little groggy today, but that's due to a grueling but productive day yesterday, and not bringing enough food for lunch (our department is way outside of town). I just didn't do the nutrition thing right yesterday, and today I paid for it.

Wednesday: 8 miles, foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Dixon reservoir, 500ft of gain. Split the mileage today to break in the Bare-Grip 200's. First run of the day felt pretty good and was one of my fastest times for this route, although it didn't feel like it at the time. My downhill running has improved quite a bit - I think it's a combination of confidence and skill gained from months of rough trails. I feel like I'm floating over boulders and the gnarly rocks embedded in the trail. The second run was insane, in a good way. The Inov8's fit snugly, but not too snug to cause issues; I would've liked a wide size, but everything else about these shoes more than makes up for it - highly-adjustable lacing, great groundfeel, and some wicked grip (duh). Anyway, this run was an out-and-back 4 miler, with a small ~250ft hill in the middle (basically the rise of the Plains up to the Dakota Hogback). 4 miles in 23 minutes, 5:45 per mile, on a rough trail with moderate elevation gain...I don't know what just happened.

Thursday: 10 miles, foothills trail, 1500ft of gain. Very relaxed run today before my flight to LA.

Friday: 4 miles, treadmill in an LA hotel. The best I could do, and I had limited time between engagements to get a run in. Oh well.

Saturday: cross-trained on an elliptical in an LA hotel for 1.5 hours. I forgot how strange this thing feels, but it's no impact and very low stress.

Miles: 42
Elevation gain: 7500ft
Time: 7 hours (+1.5 hours cross training)

My plan this week was to drop down mileage a fair amount to let last week's high-mileage sink in; mission accomplished. I visited LA for a family function and knew I wouldn't have much time in between festivities to get a run in (it's about 1 hour to the trails in Topanga and the hills northeast of Malibu).