Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Best Race Performances

I found myself thinking about my best race performances and decided it would be a fun topic for a blog post, better than another post on diets or a race report. I'll start off this post by saying that this is a pretty arbitrary post and could change if you ask me 6 months from now. There is no formal criteria other than how I feel the race went combined with my performance. Also, while I gave each an official ranking, I also tiered the races because there wasn't much difference between certain races.

Tier 1

1 - North Fork 50 mile (June 2014). This race was close to a no-brainer for this spot primarily because it was a break through race for me. It helped that I finished in 4th place and got a good Ultra Signup ranking (88%). But, really it came down this being the day I knew my new diet was working and that I had another level in ultra running to achieve. The second half of the race was incredibly strong and I finished with a personal best on 1K climb at mile 43 that I had done two other times in training.

2 - Western States 100 (June 2015). It was very tempting to put this race as #1 because it is freaking Western States! As it is, the margin is close and my only other tier 1 race. Considering the pressure the lottery and high stakes put you under, I am incredibly happy with how this day went. I ran nearly the entire course and ran very patient, almost veteran race. My lone concern coming away from the race was my feet. I've had issues with my feet in 100s and it popped up late in this race. I fought through, but it leaves me feeling unsure about future 100s.

Tier 2

3 - Quad Rock 25 (May 2014). Again, the margin in this tier of races is oh-so-close. Quad Rock gets a small boost over the others because it was the first time I raced after going to LCHF and because the course was all wrong for me. I am not a strong technical runner and it is a very technical course. It also boasts 5500 feet of climbing in less than a marathon. This was also one of my highest Ultra SignUp ranks.

4 - Leadville Trail Marathon (July 2011). It has been 4+ years now and I am remember less and less about that day. But, this race deserves a spot on this list for many reasons. First, it was my first ever trail race, containing a nasty 6500 feet of climbing at altitude in just under a marathon distance. I was a total rookie with no idea how I'd do on such a course and I ran strong, including a 25 min negative split (not that hard to do on this course, but still...). In many respects, this was also my first ultra. While not technically an ultra at only 26 miles, it runs like a 50k. Once again, this was one of my highest Ultra Signup ranks.

5 - Javelina Jundred 100k (October 2015). My highest overall Ultra Signup rank (90) but only my 5th best race. What gives? Well, unlike Quad Rock, this race suited my strengths. I run lots of roads and am quite comfortable on runnable courses (those under say 75 feet/mile of vertical). And, I have become a decent heat runner and worked quite a bit on it this summer. So, I am mostly disappointed with some of the amateur mistakes I made -- forgetting my cooling hat at home, not drinking enough at aid, not utilizing my arm sleeves with ice -- that led to a rather uncomfortable last lap and rather large positive split. I don't think I left more than 15 mins on the course that day, but I pride myself on running smart races and executing well. That said, I am still quite happy with my overall time and placement in the race and think it was a solid A- day. And, I am over the moon happy with how hard I battled on that last lap. I didn't have much to give, but I gave it my all.

Tier 3

6 - Colorado Marathon (May 2012). The margin between these remaining races is getting nearly indistinguishable. I have put such a focus on trail racing that this race almost gets lost. After converting to the trails almost full time, I didn't put much specificity into this race. In fact, I did a 32 mile long run just two weeks before the race. I finished in a bit over 3:13 and was running a very controlled and smooth 7:00 pace the last 6 miles -- on the harder half of the course. So many things went well for me on this day and this was possibly the strongest I've felt at the end of any race other than Quad Rock or Leadville Trail Marathon. The main reason I dock this race a little -- other than maybe just being 3+ years ago -- is that I felt like I had more to give. That was evident in my super strong finish. After blowing up at RnR Vegas six months earlier, I ran a very cautious first half and live with a small amount of regret. I wish I had gone harder and given myself a better chance at 3:10 and a BQ. That number seems impossibly far away right now and I wasted an opportunity to grab it. Not many 190 lb former football players run a 3:10.

7 - Bear Chase 50k (September 2015). Another very high Ultra Signup result. I don't have a whole lot to say about this race, really. I went out hard and suffered a bit on the final lap (in the heat). I got a great overall finish and am actually proud of myself for going for it (see Colo Marathon). This race probably gets put into the unremarkable category simply because it wasn't a goal race. I ran Bear Chase as a tune-up for Javelina Jundred and just didn't put much focus on training or celebrating afterward.

8 - Power of Four 50k (August 2014). Another somewhat unremarkable race due to its place in my line up as a training run. I felt like I ran a great race -- 6:32 for a 50k that boasts 8500 feet of climbing -- but my Ultra Signup ranking clearly shows that it wasn't my finest performance. The course was easier than the 8500 feet of climbing suggests because the downhill was mostly double track road and quite runnable. (Note: this race became a Sky Running event in 2015 and now contains 11K of vert on a modified course).

Honorable Mention

9 - Bear 100 (September 2014). If I am honest, I really thought I had a sub-24 in me, even on this mountain course. I went for it and came up way short. The events that unfolded make this without question one of the most memorable nights of my life and I am still a little surprised I fought through and finished. I sure am glad I did because Western States doesn't happen without it.

10 - Leadville 100 (August 2012). It wouldn't be hard to talk me into moving this one up the list. The race will always hold a special place as my first 100, but it was honestly a pretty average race. I sure do miss the rookie enthusiasm I showed that day (and in training).

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Javelina Jalloween Jundred ~ 2015 Race Report
Guest Post ~ Chuck Radford (a.k.a. Slim Shady)

"Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?"
Just two and a half short months ago, I was elated and was celebrating what was perhaps the best race of my running career at the Leadville Trail 100 with a 4th place finish in 18:43. I had very few thoughts of my next race, the Javelina Jundred (JJ) and even fewer thoughts of any expectations or plans. To make matters worse, I incurred another knee injury from a fall mid-race at Leadville leaving me without the ability to run, train or find the energy and motivation to change my lack-luster attitude about JJ.

After about 4 weeks of trying to cobble together training runs on a bum knee, things started to take a turn for the better. I did, however find myself still struggling with glute and ITB issues throughout training as JJ was approaching at rapid rate. After only about one and a half months of good training, JJ was here and it was time to race. I had many conversations with AJ about the race as we both found ourselves with a ho-hum/indifferent attitude going into the race. Not a great place to be pre-race, but I was trying to muster up some excitement each day that final week of taper. I set out what I thought was a “soft” goal of 17 hours hoping that would give me some structure and drive to push, but not too hard. This was a B-race after all.

AJ (100K), Jon (100M), Mike (100M), Heidi (Mike’s wife and all our single crew) and Wyatt (100M) all headed out to Arizona the Friday before the race. I knew from the start, race aside, this was going to be a fun guys weekend …and it was. We checked into our hotel, grabbed some food, met with our local Arizona friends (Steve and Thomas) and checked out the race start/finish line all the while trying to stay relaxed and energized. Off to bed, up at 3:30 and off we went to the race start Saturday morning.

Photo by Heidi Mizones
From left to right: Steve, AJ, Wyatt, Mike, Slim Shady, Jon

Loop One ~ 15.3 miles (31st place ~ 8:44 pace)

With a plan to go out around 9:45 pace, I quickly realized everyone was going to push this first lap. I tried to get out front and once there, had no problem letting some people go. However, when more and more people were passing me, I started to get the itch and let the 9:45 pace go opting for a responsible pace that wouldn’t end my race on the 2nd lap. We were told by a friend that the first hill was significant even if it was only around a 2% grade (child’s play for us Coloradoans right? Right?!?). When I was headed up the hill, I barely even noticed it and wondered if I was even on it. Later I would realize that hill was like Mt. Kilimanjaro and I would soon die on it. Being a cool start and a beautiful sunrise, I tried to take in the pretty scenery and kept my eye out for Javelinas (which I never saw one throughout the day/night).

After finally making it to Jackass Junctions 8 miles in, we were greeted by early aid station staff, who were clearly unprepared for the onslaught of runners headed their way. However, they were upbeat and more than willing to make you anything you wanted before heading out. Now that we hit this middle aid station, it was almost all downhill into the first “turn”. I found the grade nice and runnable and the trail non-technical, which made holding back even harder, but I did my best. I was beginning to notice signs of body ache …already!! This was not a good sign so early in the race and I suddenly realized I was not as fresh as I should be this early in the race.

I wasn't feeling fresh, but apparently looked fresh enough to smile

Loop Two ~ 30.6 miles (19th place ~ 8:53 pace)

After maneuvering through the awkward headquarters aid station (also the “turn”), I saw Heidi (Mike’s wife) who was very willing to help in any way. She gladly filled up my water bottles for me and mixed in some Tailwind while I had a Vespa Jr. and an Epic Bar. I dawned a cap and sunglasses, tossed my torch, thanked Heidi and was out of the aid station in less than 3 minutes. My best transition of the day …as it should be.

As the Javelina course is set up for washing machine style loops, I headed back out in the direction I just came. I was looking forward to seeing my friends coming at me the opposite direction, as we’d encounter numerous times through the day. I first saw Wyatt, then Jon and Mike and later would see AJ and Steve who got an hour delayed start in the 100K race. Everyone looked happy, healthy and fresh and all looked happy to be finishing up lap one.

I was immediately struck with how much harder heading back up the gradual uphill was. It certainly didn’t seem that steep when we were heading down, so it was certainly something to factor in later in the race with more walk/running. At this point however, I was still fresh enough to run almost all of the uphill back into Jackass Junction. I was also surprised with how far that aid station felt. I expected to see it much sooner than I did, but was happy once I got there. I started eating candied ginger at this aid station and would do so all day in a pre-emptive strike to hold off any digestive issues. I also refilled a bottle with Skratch (the only brew I drank the rest of the day besides water). The next stretch was the longest between aid stations and the sun was heating things up quickly.

Again, I was surprised with how long it felt between aid stations and while I tried to be patient with it, it was just downright frustrating. I was also getting pretty angry with my angry body (the first angry part of my legs were my hip flexors which did NOT like the downhill at all). I started considering some Tylenol, which seemed very early in the race for, but wanted some relief. Hitting the short 2-mile uphill back into the turn took a little pressure off of the hip flexors and I started to mentally prepare for what I needed at the “turn”.

 Dead heat of the day!!!
Photo by Sweet M Images

Loop Three ~ 45.9 miles (10th place ~ 10:02 pace)

Once again greeted by Heidi, she offered me a chair to sit in, which I was tempted to deny, but like a dirty little pleasure, I took her up on it. I once again fueled on Vespa and an Epic bar as Heidi refilled my bottles. This time I took a little longer washing down my Epic bar and complaining to Heidi about how hard these loops were starting to feel. Combined with the heat, which was just starting to get worse and worse, I was finding myself in a negative frame of mind and wondering how I was ever going to hit a 17-hour finish. After about a 5-minute stop, I thanked Heidi again and went back in the direction I just came …this time knowing exactly what I was in for.

The hill that I didn’t think was much of a hill was now staring me straight in the face in the dead heat. I was already starting to feel fatigued, hot and now my glutes were yelling at me. I made sure to drink as many fluids as possible between the “turn” and the Coyote Camp aid station so that I could top off before heading off on the long 6+ mile stretch between aid stations. As I noted earlier, these stretches just seemed longer and longer with each loop and this time, it felt no different. I knew I’d be seeing the gang again soon, so I tried to keep my head up enough to see them without tripping on a rock. Saw everyone in the same order and everyone seemed happy still, which was great news.

Another stop at Jackass Junction meant I had some nice downhill ahead of me and my glutes were about to find some relief. My drink rate was really starting to increase and I was wasting water on this stretch as I drenched my hat, buff and arm sleeves to stay cool. This would become the pattern for the remainder of this loop and the next.

Mustering a smile in the face of HEAT!!!
Photo by Sweet M Images

Loop Four ~ 61.2 miles (10th Place ~ 10:30 pace)

Greeted again by Heidi and finding that great camping chair, I continued to push the Vespa and my last Epic bar of the day. Heidi not only filled my water bottles again, but also took my soaking wet Cabela's neck gaiter (I’m pretty sure her response when grabbing it was “ewww, that’s so gross!!!”) and filled it with ice. This turned out to be one of the best cooling options of the day and worked great …for about 30 minutes.  I also had to wheel and deal with Heidi to give me some Tylenol …the largest safe dose before heading out to take the edge off.

The heat was getting hotter (peak time of the day) and I once again drank as much as possible before leaving the Rattlesnake Ranch aid station. Once again faced with a long sustained hill, I knew I would be walking much of it and found myself at times forgetting that I needed to run at least some of it. I willed myself on and tried to adopt the “just get from aid station to aid station” mentality. I crossed paths with the crew again and everyone was definitely looking hot and a little drained.

After hitting and leaving Jackass Junction I was starting to get more and more negative. I began to think about not only letting the 17-hour finish go, but also entertained (if only intermittently and briefly) calling it good at a 100K and ending my day. However, I talked myself through the little meltdowns and reminded myself of the toll running takes on my family and myself and knew I couldn’t call it quits especially when nothing was drastically wrong (besides my piss poor attitude).

Now that my hip flexors and glutes had their turn, my IT bands were starting to really tighten up, which was causing knee pain in my left knee. My feet were hurting, but were protected by my Hoka Stinson so I planned to stick with them through the race.  Unfortunately the Tylenol was not helping much and I wished I had an I.V. drip of something stronger to keep me moving. Down the hill and back into the “turn”.

Definitely looking tired and ready to be done ~ With Steve Poling
Photo by Heidi Mizones

Loop Five ~ 76.5 miles (10th place ~ 11:50 pace)

Completely drained and entertaining the idea more and more of stopping at the 100K mark, I sat down once again and gratefully accepted Heidi’s help again. She once again hooked me up with a nice ice buff bath. I had another Vespa and rummaged through my nutrition bag for something to eat since Epic bars were no longer appealing. I found an Electro-Bites Fuel bag, crunched them into fine powder and ate them with some Skratch. I also took another bag along with a LaraBar and put it in my waste pack. After carrying two handheld bottles for hours, I wanted a break and headed out with my waste pack …not before I tried to talk Heidi into more Tylenol only to be turned down (Heidi is a P.A. so who was I to argue?).

Being the fifth loop, I was at least a little relieved to know this would be the last long loop in this direction. It didn’t make the monster hill or long stretch out to Jackass Junction any easier, but I was accepting that the race was over the big hump and now into the final few legs. I began to really struggle with my lack-luster performance today and couldn’t figure out why I had no energy or pick up in my legs.  I let negativity in and couldn’t push it back out again. I was disappointed and finding it hard to stay positive or happy about ANYTHING.  Then, all of a sudden, I passed my first 100 miler in many, many miles. I somehow glided right past him and found a tiny bit of energy. Sadly, he passed me back again only 5 miles later and ended up finishing 7 minutes overall ahead of me at the end of the race.

In and out of Jackass Junction and hating life all the way back to the “turn”. It quickly dawned on me just how hard it is to race a 100 without a pacer. It was lonely out there and I found it hard to motivate myself to do more running.

Loop Six ~ 92 miles (10th place ~ 12:52 pace)

It was now dark, headlamps were a must and we all started to encounter runners with pacers clogging up the trails more with blinding lights. I sat down again, had my last Vespa and nothing else with it. I refilled only one bottle, had 2 more approved Tylenol from Heidi and changed my shoes into the Altra Olympus just for a change. I then headed out again with my waste pack, this time freeing up my hands completely.

Still down and still negative, I once again found solace in the fact that this would be the last time I had to do this loop in this direction. I was working (and working hard) towards the finish with every step being on step closer to finding a shower, some pizza and bed. I started to get a little punch drunk and began talking to the trail and myself. I would look at a cactus and say, “that’s the last time I see YOU cactus”. I would then do the same thing with a rock …and then a bush …and so on. This somehow made me giggle and helped me pass the time. The heat finally let up a bit, not much, but enough to ease some of that pain. Final long hill climbing back to Jackass Junction where I was greeted by a blitzed M.C. who wouldn’t leave me alone as I was trying to get through the aid station fast. He grabbed me, talked with heavy alcohol on his breath not making any sense and then let me go. I yelled in victory, “that’s the last time I see YOU Jackass Junction” to applause from those that heard me.

This stretch to the next aid station felt the longest of the day. Time was at a standstill and every step I took felt like a monumental step that took me nowhere. I passed runners when I could, tried to be cordial and tried not to get run over by runners and pacers from the opposite direction. I looked down at my watch and knew that 17 hours would no longer be in play. I struggled with what I could have done differently, but couldn’t find answers. It no longer mattered in the grand scheme of things and just getting the finish was the next goal.

My legs were tired and my focus was weak as I started to kick rocks and stubbing toes. I swore I broke my big toe at one point protesting loudly. My confidence was a little rocked and I began being more cautious on the technical sections. I continued to trudge along working my way to the “turn” for my final stop. Everything was aching, my thoughts on the race were twisted, but my resolve to finish at this point was solid.

Loop Seven ~ 101.1 miles (11th place ~ 12:20 pace)

Greeted by AJ this time instead of Heidi, I sat down and just shared a moment of silence with him. I think we both just caved to the course and knew without even saying a word how hard this day turned out to be. He said, “no fun huh?” to which I emphatically agreed. AJ and I are training partners and have been through a lot together, so having him there at this point was good mentally. There wasn’t much more to do at this point except refill my bottle, get back out of the Olympus and back into my Stinson for more protection and just get this race over with. With a little push from AJ, I was off for the grand finale.

Up one last time through the technical trail and power hiking as much as possible, I felt like I was never going to get to the half way mark. I asked a few runners if it was ahead as I started to worry I missed the turn. After finally making it there, I immediately heard two voices behind me. I hoped they were runners still heading out on their 5th lap …nope. A racer and his pacer came flying by me with such energy I was dumbstruck. I don’t often get passed in races (sounds cocky …sorry), so for it to happen to me with 3 miles to go, I was upset. Knowing I couldn’t do anything about it at this point, I just pressed on and tried to put in some strong final downhill miles. The trail was amazing and for once during the race, I was happy. I was pushing 8 ½ minute miles, but they felt like sub-6 miles. I was pushing, but undoubtedly looking like a lumbering cow. All of a sudden, I looked back and saw a headlamp approaching. CRAP!! I immediately increased my speed and kept looking back to see if I was being caught. I pushed as hard as I could all the way into the finish and beat the guy …only to find out he didn’t do the laps correctly and cut loop 6 short taking the cutoff …at least I found some final motivation to get it over with. I was greeted by AJ and Steve, received my buckle, took some photos and sat my butt in a chair.  It was over, I finished and I was happy to be done.  Final time was 17:54, 11th OA, 10th Men, 3rd Masters.

After a shower and cheering Wyatt and Jon on to their finishes, we all celebrated with some food and beer before finally heading back to the hotel for some uncomfortable sleep. That was a tough day, but we rewarded ourselves amply with more “cheat” foods and beer than you can imagine and all the while telling our own personal story from our race. We compared notes, licked our wounds, confirmed our struggles and celebrated our finishes together as a crew. It was perhaps the best “guys weekend” I’ve ever had!

Parting Thoughts

This race did NOT go the way I planned. I’ve had an incredible 2 years of racing and really have nothing to complain about. Yet, I find myself unsatisfied and frustrated with this race. Was I not fully recovered from Leadville? Was my compressed training not enough to achieve my goal? Was my heart never really in it and as a consequence neither was my drive? Am I getting older and less competitive? Did I just have a bad day? I find myself considering all of those things, but not finding an answer. Maybe I don’t need an answer and maybe it shouldn’t matter, but for some reason it does. It’s not the way I want to end the race season even though I killed Leadville. It’s left a sour taste in my mouth, but each day it’s losing more power over me and I’m just accepting it. I didn’t have a terrible race and even on a bad day, I finished my fastest 100 in hard conditions. You can see the decline in my paces through the day, but my place stayed steady, which means I ran a controlled race throughout. I made memories with friends, tested my fortitude and found persistence I wasn’t sure I had at one point. Will I run two 100’s again in a year? Unlikely, but this year I did and I will remember this season fondly.

If you haven’t seen the movie “Southpaw”, I highly recommend it.  There is a scene in the beginning where Billy Hope (fighter) is sitting in a chair post fight, bleeding everywhere and looking like death.  His wife asks him if he needs help getting his socks off and he simply says, “Nah, I’ll just shower in them”.  That captures the way I feel after a 100 to a “T”.  You are broken down to pieces, bleeding and you don’t care if you shower in your socks or not.  You simply want to find your way back to basic humanity after feeling like a dead dog.

The race was incredibly well organized, full of life and energy and easy to self-crew and self-pace (although I would never prefer it over having the support of family and friends).  I found the loop system incredibly difficult mentally to handle. The course was beautiful (although not always especially when you’re dragging arse and struggling) and the camaraderie on the course was fantastic. I doubt I’ll ever run it again, but would certainly consider the 100K option. I would recommend this race to anyone, but would certainly make sure they understand the complexities of a loop course as well as how to deal with the heat.

I wish my family was with me during the race and that I could have seen their supportive and beautiful faces. However, it was the vision of those beautiful faces that helped me press on and never give up in that race. Whether they were there in person or not, they were there in my heart and in my thoughts. My wife and I shared a nice long deep conversation the next day. My daughter flipped the script on me when I got home and complained about my performance. Her cute voice told me in simple terms, “Daddy, you finished 100 miles and you finished 10th …that’s amazing”. Damn, I love these people to death.

The reward for a hard earned finish.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Javelina Jundred 100 Race Report - Jon Ahern

Javelina Jundred – A First-Time 100-Miler’s Race Report
A guest blog from Jon Ahern

Race Morning – Pre-Race

After a great day Friday of traveling to Phoenix, grabbing a couple of fatty meals with friends, getting a tour of the start area and hanging out, I got a surprisingly good night’s sleep. AJ and I went lights out around 8:40, and I crashed right away and slept solidly. I woke at least 20 mins before the 3:40am alarm for a 4:30am meet-up in the lobby with group, so I showered, used the bathroom (successfully) and double-checked that I had everything I might need in my gear bag. Pre-race, I ate 2 hard-boiled eggs, a bottle of Ucan and a packet of Vespa.

Topo Runventure shoes got the call as my starting shoe. The Runventure is a relatively minimal trail shoe with some protection (rock plate) in a low profile. Because of the gravel, rocks and sand, I also donned my Altra gaiters, which I affixed by attaching some Velcro tabs to the back of my Topos. Other gear included a Columbia coolhead cap, a headlamp and a single handheld with water only to start. 

The start area was energetic and well-lit, so we had no trouble finding our way around. I had been pretty relaxed about this race during my training and taper, and the pre-race morning was no different. A few minutes before the start, Mike and I headed out to the desert for a last potty break, which left us at the back of the pack as the race got started. Off we went. 

LAP 1 (start to 15.3 mi) – 100th place, lap time 2:37

Mike and I agreed we were going to run together for at least the first lap. We also agreed to start super easy, which was aided by the fact that we were near the back of a conga line in a 450+ runner field on semi-narrow trails with cacti, ruts and rocks on both sides of the trail. So we walked quite a bit, passed when we could and let our bodies gradually warm up. After the first aid station (about 2 miles in), my headlamp was already unnecessary, and the crowds started to loosen up a bit. After 20-25 super slow minutes, we could finally run/walk when we felt like it. Mike and I kept reassuring one another that we were being responsible with pace (as if two rookies had a clue – total “blind leading the blind” moment), but it turns out we likely did just fine based on our placement in the field by the end of the first 15.3-mile lap.

The course was a bit more technical in spots that I expected, but the clockwise climb over the first 6-7 miles was pretty benign, with an aggregate climb of about 800’ and a low-to-high net elevation change of only about 600’. At the big aid station near the loop’s midpoint (Jackass Junction), I refilled my bottle with Skratch and quickly headed out for the very runnable and pleasant descent back into Javelina HQ aid. Mike and I clicked off a bunch of mid-9 miles, but we were being passed more often than passing others, so we remained confident that we were being responsible. On this first lap, I stubbed my toe painfully at least three times, and I was sure that was a bad omen that I was destined for numerous falls throughout the day, but it never happened again and I never once went down.

We got into Javelina HQ about 10 mins ahead of the schedule Mike had given to Heidi (Mike’s wife), but she was ready for us and helped apply sunscreen, fill bottles and get us ready to head back out into the quickly warming day. I dropped the headlamp and added my UD waist belt, so I now I had 2x20oz bottles – one with water, one with Skratch – which would be my thing throughout the heat of the day. I wolfed down an EPIC bar (buffalo, bacon & cranberry), but forgot Vespa. I also forgot to put on my cooling arm sleeves, but that turned out ok since it wasn’t super warm yet. Mike was being attended to by Heidi, so I shouted over that I was going to start walking down the trail and he could catch up. 

LAP 2 (15.3 to 30.6 mi) – 75th place, lap time 2:41

I walked for a few minutes, but no Mike. I looked behind a few times, but didn’t see him anywhere. So I started running a bit, then running a bit more, and when still no Mike, I concluded I was on my own and headed into the climb back up to Jackass in the counterclockwise direction. I learned later Mike got crossed up leaving aid and went the wrong way for a bit. Just as running down this section was nice and not at all technical, the climb back up was relatively easy. I felt terrific and ran this section well, but I forced myself to walk for 30-45 seconds every mile. Jackass came quickly, and I made another super brief stop only to top off my bottles. The run down also went well, though the technical sections required caution. I was enjoying the trail camaraderie with cross-traffic runners and had a ton of positive energy. The only complaints at this point were my right forefoot, which was being aggravated by pounding on the technical sections and, of course, the rapidly rising temperature.

At Javelina HQ, I made another quick stop, downing a Vespa, donning my cooling arm sleeves and packing an EPIC bar for later up the climb. I also pulled out my phone and sent a quick text to my wife letting her know where I was in the race and that all was well. Since Mike and I were no longer together, Heidi missed me coming in, but she saw me heading out and I assured her I got what I needed and was feeling great.

LAP 3 (30.6 mi to 45.9 mi) – 57th place, lap time 2:55

It was now undeniably warm out there. Managing the heat became a high priority, so I resorted to having aid station volunteers scoop ice into my arm sleeves and put a few cubes in my cap (thanks for this tip, AJ!!). This really worked well – so well in fact that my fingers were getting numb – and it was a pattern I repeated for the rest of lap 3 and all of lap 4 during the worst of the heat. I continued to run the majority of the climb, but the walk breaks got longer and more frequent and the result was a solid 11-11:30 pace on the climb back up toward Jackass. By this point in the race, I was starting to get very familiar with the pattern of runners going the other way. I started passing time by guessing when I’d see familiar faces, including Chuck, AJ, Wyatt, Mike and Steve, plus some other less familiar faces who were “memorable” for a variety of reasons ;)

I still felt great overall. I had a sense I was moving up in the 100-mile field, since I was doing way more passing than the other way around. The heat was definitely slowing everyone’s pace, but I sensed that I was slowing less than others. I again ran well on the clockwise descent from Jackass to Javelina HQ (including 4-5 consecutive sub-10 miles) and felt so good I even declined the Otter Pop offer from a new makeshift aid station halfway down.

At Javelina HQ, I changed shoes to Altra Olympus in a failed attempt to protect the increasing discomfort in my right forefoot. Though the Olympus is a burly shoe compared to the Runventure, it doesn’t have a ton of forefoot cushioning and ended up not doing a ton of good in that regard (but it felt great overall, and I’d end up sticking with the Olympus for the rest of the race). Fortunately, the pain never got much worse and had only a minor adverse impact on my day. I again took Vespa, packed another EPIC bar for the climb, applied sunscreen, texted my wife and headed back out.

LAP 4 (45.9 mi to 61.2 mi) – 40th place, lap time 3:05

On climb back up, I knew I’d soon be in uncharted territory never having run farther than 50 miles. In my two 50-mile races (Leadville Silver Rush in 2013 and North Fork in 2014), I struggled with calf cramps, quad cramps and general fatigue. I was relieved that none of those things had yet happened – more on that in “recap” thoughts later… I ticked over 50 miles on my Garmin a few seconds under 9 hours, which bested my two 50-mile race finish times by a full half hour (though today was on a course at lower elevation with less vertical). My average climbing pace was now in the low 12’s, but I figured that was not too bad during the hottest few hours of the day. I didn’t pass up the Otter Pop offer this time, however! My nutrition plan was intact again on this lap, but I started dabbling in some additional stuff – including a bag of Fuel 100 Bites (the Simply Salty ones, totally hit the spot) and ginger ale at the aid stations.

Just past Jackass aid, I caught up with Wyatt, who was trying to rally off a low point, having just dealt with an instance or two of nausea. He complimented me on how strong I looked, which gave me a welcome boost. After a few minutes, though, I was on my own again – and would be for the remainder of the 45 miles ahead.

At Javelina HQ after lap 4 and 61+ miles, my nutrition plan went completely off the rails. Instead of Vespa and an EPIC bar, I opted for a huge slice of lukewarm pepperoni pizza and more ginger ale. It was another quick stop without any gear changes (other than donning my headlamp for the imminent sunset), so after another quick “I’m ok” text to my wife, I headed out with my monster slice of pizza in hand.

LAP 5 (61.2 mi to 76.5 mi) – 29th place, lap time 3:06

Within a half mile or so of HQ, I crossed paths with AJ, who was finishing a strong top-10 performance in the 100k race. I was pretty darn jealous at that point that he’d soon be done, but I still felt strong and steady, settling into a good run/walk pattern on the climb in fading light (and, thankfully, rapidly cooling temperatures). Relatively speaking, this was my strongest lap of the day – running almost the exact same time as lap #4. I’m sure a good deal of that was due to the cooler temps, but I was still passing people every now and then and drawing energy from the fact that, at the end of this lap, I’d have less than a marathon remaining. Traffic on the trail was thinning, too, with 100-milers now spread out all over the course and 100k runners finishing up.

Jackass aid station was now in party mode after nightfall. The guy on the PA system was hammered, slurring his words and speaking gibberish. Music was blaring, people were dancing, beer was flowing. I opted again for some ginger ale, but this time taking a few orange slices (the real kind, not the sugary candy) too. As I headed out, the volunteer who had been helping me fill bottles told me he’d see me again in 3 hours. I told him I’d be back sooner than that and he just chuckled and said “well, we’ll soon see, won’t we.” He must have been an ultra vet.

Halfway back down, I felt a sharp, intense pain in my right knee. I instantly thought I had been bitten by a snake or something. However, I looked down and saw a large ball of spikes from a cactus lodged into the outside of my knee (I learned later these things are called “jumping cactus” because all it takes is a slight brush against it, and the large burrs seem to jump out at you). I tried to pull it out but it cut up my fingers, so I grabbed a couple of rocks, pinched them against the stupid thing and yanked it out (I was still pulling 1/2” spikes from the damn thing out of my leg the next day). My left knee started bugging when I got back to running – maybe from me shrieking and jumping like a frightened schoolgirl from the cactus attack.

Back at Javelina HQ aid, I welcomed assistance and encouragement from AJ, who opted to stick around to watch and help instead of heading back to the hotel for a shower and a nap. My drink rate was slowing quite a bit, so I ditched the belt and went back to a single handheld. The last lap’s pizza hit the spot and caused no GI issues, so I again grabbed the biggest slice I could find (though now ice cold) and headed back out into the darkness. 

LAP 6 (76.5 mi to 91.8 mi) – 27th place, lap time 3:42

I started the final full lap out well, running most of the flattish section to the nearby aid station. However, once the climbing started, I found myself walking more often and walking for longer periods. I still managed 12-13 minute miles in here, but my enthusiasm and energy were waning. I blame my headlamp. WTF you say? Hear me out… With no music all day and no company since the first lap (an eternity ago by now), I was enjoying the energy and confidence with eye contact and mutual compliment exchanges with other runners. With my Petzl NAO head torch on, unless I looked down at my feet long before crossing paths with oncoming runners, I might have blinded someone. So, now I wasn’t getting those interactions. No familiar smiles, no “you look strong” remarks, no mutual nods of respect. I didn’t realize how much that all may have been helping, but now it was gone when I needed it the most.

Also on this climb, at about mile 84, my Garmin (Fenix 3) gave me a low battery warning. I switched off the normal GPS mode and turned on “UltraTrac”, which preserves battery life but results in worthless lap splits, pace data and distance information. So now I’ve lost feedback from other runners AND feedback from my watch – great… Just keep moving forward.

I got back up to Jackass aid in 2 hours and 46 minutes from when I left there, so I found the same guy who had challenged me earlier (or at least that’s how I thought of it), and he did a good job of feigning being impressed (I say again he must have been an ultra vet). More ginger ale, more orange slices, a new bottle of water in my handheld, and off I went excited for the downhill. However, this time, my legs were reluctant to respond. For the first time all day, my quads were killing me and screamed when I’d start to run. The pain in my left knee was intermittent, but still there, so I started finding excuses to walk for longer periods and run less frequently. If I had a shot at going under 20 hours, this is where I lost it. To add insult to injury, I got attacked by another “jumping cactus” – this time in the right thigh. Fortunately, this time the ball of spikes dislodged from my flesh much more easily.

Back down at Javelina HQ aid, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I knew I had only 10 miles to go and that I was going to finish, barring some sort of freak accident. I still had decent energy and all of my wits. My GI system was fine, and I hadn’t suffered a cramp all day. On the other hand, it was really tough to see Chuck (who had only minutes before finished the 100+ miles in under 18 hours), AJ, Mike, Heidi and Steve all hanging out, bundled up, relaxing in folding chairs, likely sipping a beer or two. They were all very encouraging and complimentary of how I looked and how I was doing, but I was crazy jealous they were done. I asked if anyone wanted to go on a 3-hour hike with me, but when there were no immediate takers, I headed out again into the night. 

“BONUS” LAP 7 – (91.8 mi to 101 mi) – 27th place, finish time 20:23:51

This last lap is pretty much a blur, except for the end. I was no longer happy, and I was no longer having fun. The glowing necklace they gave me back at aid signaled to the course marshalls, aid station volunteers and the other runners that I was on my final short loop, so got tons of “congratulations” on the way up - to which I repeatedly mumbled “thanks…” While I was sucking down ginger ale and orange slices at aid on the way up, I heard a “Hey Jon, is that you?” – and I turned to see a revitalized Wyatt running uphill through the aid station toward a strong finish. Damn, I thought, I wish I looked and felt like that right now! I also got passed by a woman with her pacer on the way up, but near the top I passed a couple of guys and their pacers who were hiking much more slowly than I was. I felt crappy, but I took solace in the fact that I hadn’t lost any net placement.

When I finally got to the Tonto trail turn-off (where we left the main loop for the only time all day/night), I asked the marshall how much was left. I was expecting a reply of 5 or 6 miles, but when he said less than 4, I got a jolt of energy. I also recalled Chuck saying an hour ago (ok, more like 90 minutes ago) down at Javelina HQ that it was the most runnable section of the day and that if I didn’t run it, he’d kick my ass (I might be misremembering that last part). So I started to run. It hurt like hell, but I stayed with it, and within a minute or two, the pain in my quads subsided and I felt like I was running somewhat normally. I ran more than I walked on this final stretch for sure, attracted by the siren song of the bright lights from Javelina HQ and the long-awaited finish line. Soon, the lights were joined by faint music, and soon after that by the din of partygoers’ and finishers’ voices surrounding the finish line. I was all smiles again by this point and made sure to make eye contact and thank everyone congratulating me on the final stretch. I crossed in 20:23:51, accepted my buckle, took an official finisher photo, and went over to join my friends in a group celebration of a terrific day.

A Rookie’s Thoughts and Reflections on the Day

I never thought I’d do something like this. I paced AJ for 20 miles late in the 2012 Leadville 100 and said to myself “no way I’m ever doing that.” I said the same thing two years later when pacing Chuck on the same 20 miles at Leadville. I had two mediocre finishes in 50-mile races over the past couple of years, and neither filled me with confidence that I could succeed at the 100-mile distance. AJ introduced me to a Low-Carb, High-Fat (LCHF) way of eating during the middle of last year – after dropping my cramping ass at the mid-point of the North Fork 50-miler. After doing my own research and reading all of AJ’s posts and links on the subject, I took the plunge and dramatically altered my diet. I went from eating 250-300g of carbs per day and only 50-60g of fat per day to the exact opposite, getting about 70%-75% of my daily caloric intake from fat (mostly saturated fats). When I toed the line last Saturday at Javelina Jundred, I had been diligently following LCHF for over a year, and I strongly believe that the LCHF diet and my body’s baseline ability to burn fat as its primary fuel source contributed to my solid performance out there. I had no GI issues, I had good energy almost throughout, and not a single bout of nausea.

Beyond just the diet, AJ has been a great role model in this pursuit. I copied ideas from his training, I copied my race day nutrition plan from his successful sub-24 Western States 100 earlier this year, and he was always willing to dole out advice and suggestions, especially when solicited. AJ assured me during training that I was doing the right things and that I was well-prepared for a good 100 miles. So thanks, AJ – and I promise I never once used your name in vain out there on Saturday. Chuck has been a great inspiration, too. I was with him during 20 miles of agony and self-loathing during Leadville 100 in 2014, then saw a transformed and super impressive Chuck during my pacing duties at Leadville a couple months ago, where he stayed strong and positive throughout, finishing an amazing 4th overall in under 19 hours. It’s no coincidence that Chuck has also been an LCHF disciple this year. I have lots of other running friends, as well, and some credit goes to all with whom I have shared miles, stories and training tips. My wife and kids are awesome supporters (it helps that they are all runners, too), and their flexibility to allow my training to co-exist with soccer schedules, track meets, weekend breakfasts and other life stuff really helped out all year. 

One of the things that attracted me to Javelina Jundred was the loop course, where I felt I could easily be my own crew and my own pacer, without having to ask my friends to sacrifice a weekend to come support me (though I know these things are a blast to be a part of as a pacer or crew member, and it wouldn’t be much of a “sacrifice”). Well, it worked out ok – but having struggled late in the race to find motivation to run, I get it now. A pacer would almost certainly have been able to pull more out of me than I was able to pull out of myself. A crew would have ensured that I didn’t forget elements of my nutrition plan, and may have helped me stick to the plan longer. In the future, if/when I do another one of these, I won’t be so uncomfortable asking for or accepting some assistance. 

I never once listened to music. In fact, I never even took my iPod out of my gear back. I train with music all the time, but I liked hearing the race – eavesdropping on other runners’ conversations, words of encouragement, music at approaching aid stations, coyotes howling at the desert moon, all of it. Gear choices were all rock-solid. Topo Runventure and Altra Olympus were both great, and my trusty Wrightsock Coolmesh left no blisters, no hot spots. My UD waist pack rode fine, and the cooling hat and sleeves from Columbia were a godsend on a hot day.

The race was extremely well-run. The course was well-marked, the aid station volunteers were energetic, helpful and knowledgeable, and race communication was great. Kudos to Jamil Coury, his brother Nick and the other people at Aravaipa Running for a job very well done. The course itself was decent and very runnable, even though the looping certainly became monotonous. The Sonoran desert landscape is beautiful and very different from our Colorado mountain runs, but I was ready for some variation in scenery by the time this was done. 
Sitting around on Sunday after the race with Chuck and AJ, drinking beer, eating junk food, watching football and nursing aching body parts, we were reflecting on the race and I told them I’d grade myself an A- for the day (I actually told that to Chuck, but AJ overheard from the bathroom). They argued pretty convincingly for an A, particularly for a first time 100-miler, but now that I’ve had a few days to reflect, I agree with my original assessment and will stick with the A-. I bailed too early on my nutrition plan. I walked too much on runnable sections late in the race. I let 20 hours slip away too easily. Don’t get me wrong – a great many things went right out there, too. I’m immensely proud of my accomplishment, but if I gave myself an A, I’d be ignoring the things I know I could have done better and will hopefully do better next time, if there is a next time. Remind me again, when does the Western States lottery open? Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Javelina Jundred 100K Race Report

When I planned out my year, I considered doing two 100s with the idea of using one to train and learn. My selection into the WS100 changed all that. Honestly, I didn't think I'd do another race after Western States and was barely able to squeeze by the idea of going to Phoenix on the home front to be with my buddies as a sort of "guys trip". Steve recommended the race after pacing Thomas last year and the reputation of the event speaks for itself. I knew at least 8 runners at Javelina this past weekend and it was a blast to see them all race. Each is at a different point in their running "careers" right now: some are ultra vets where others are 100 mile rookies. Some are round-the-clock training guys. Some prefer to approach it a little more casually.

Chuck, Jon, Mike, Wyatt and I flew in on Friday morning and wasted little time heading to the race hotel before settling in, hitting the expo, and scoping out the start area. Steve and Thomas met us to show us around the start area and get us prepped for what awaited us Saturday morning.

Our group of guys, the four on the right (Wyatt, Mike, Chuck, and Jon) all did the 100 mile race.

We awoke about 3:30 am on Saturday morning and got ready before catching the shuttle to McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The 100 milers took off at 6 am and then those of us doing the 100k tried to stay warm as we awaited the hour later start.

Mike's wife, Heidi, joined us guys for the trip to support her husband and kindly acted as a crew member for us all from the start/finish area. She was also the expert photographer in these photos.

Steve and I awaiting the 100k start.

Lap 1 - 15.3 miles 

The 100k started with Steve and I situated near the front of the pack. However, it didn't take but a few minutes before everyone was passing us and we dropped 20 spots in the race. I knew it was likely I'd finish top 10 with a good day and I was stunned how fast runners were starting this race -- like 8:30 pace. In hindsight, I suppose using the relatively cold start to "bank" some quick miles was not a terrible strategy, but it definitely contributed to the carnage later on. We stopped to pee at the first aid station (about 2 miles) and I immediately stepped on a cactus. That was a sure sign I wasn't racing in Colorado anymore!

After we picked the cactus out of my Altra Olympus, Steve and I resumed running and took on the 600 foot climb up to the midpoint of the loop, Jackass Junction. The climbing was very gentle and only technical in a few spots, so I pretty much granny-geared the whole thing. While we wanted to run together for a bit and catch up (he lives in AZ), I felt like Steve was wanting to slow it down some. He maintained the pace with me until Jackass Junction where we did a quick stop to fill water before starting down the very benign, very runnable second half of the lap back to the start/finish area.

Not long after leaving Jackass Junction, I was running sub-9 pace very comfortably and just cruising the plush downhill. Steve finally said goodbye and let me go ahead. I plugged in my iPod and began passing some back-of-the-pack 100 milers and began to see some front-of-the-pack 100 milers -- who were now on Lap 2 and going the opposite direction -- coming back at me. I said hello to all my friends and they all looked happy and solid, which was great considering there was a ton of racing left to go. I was a bit surprised that Mike and Jon had split up, but I later learned there was a slight mix up at aid that caused it. I could tell right away that the first place woman and first place man both looked incredible. It is hard to extrapolate much off of being only 15% done, but they looked focused and strong. They both went onto cruise to victory; the first place woman crushing the course record and climbing into the history books with one of the best 100 mile performances ever for an American woman.

I arrived at the start/finish area in 2:23, well ahead of my projected time of 2:45, and made a quick change, grabbing my waist belt for additional water and chugging down a Vespa. I also attempted to eat some real food, but it was getting warm in my drop bag and didn't go down real well. Somehow missing Heidi, I took off down the trail for Lap 2.

Photo of me finishing Lap 1
Photo by Ceton's Photo Place

Lap 2 - 30.6 miles

Photo of me starting Lap 2, less than an hour later, totally covered in sweat
Photo by Ceton's Photo Place

Lap 2 was pretty uneventful (and easy) until about the point I arrived back at Jackass Junction. It was starting to warm up considerably and my fluid intake was starting to sky rocket. After having gone the entire first loop with just a handheld, my drink rate was reaching the point where two handhelds might not be enough. Worse, leaving Jackass, you sort of mentally expect to go downhill but the course actually undulates for several miles before a true downhill section kicks in. And, the downhill this direction is more technical, forcing you to pay attention more and not "cruise" quite so easily. I wound up preferring the clockwise (odd number) direction much more.

After the undulating miles, two runners settled in behind me and began to chit-chat, clearly using me to pace them. I didn't mind and actually enjoyed listening to their banter, but stayed with my iPod and just tried to keep in race mode. I was a bit worried because they sounded much more relaxed than I felt at this stage of the race. In fact, much of my body was feeling a bit achy (hip flexors, hamstrings, quads) and a bit crampy. I attribute this to the now nearly 50k of runnable terrain. I rarely run a consistent pace/effort for the length -- typically being in the mountains and alternating between hiking and running more. At some point, I took a nasty toe stub, probably from looking at my watch, and had to speed up dramatically to keep myself from falling. I could hear them both sort of gasp and then ask me if I was ok. Fine, fortunately. In addition to being hot, I was expending quite a bit of energy dodging on coming runners and trying to implement Fartleks to pass slower 100 mile runners that I was now catching by the dozen.

I once again saw my friends -- first Chuck, then Wyatt, then Jon, then Mike. Jon and Mike remained split and I could tell Mike wasn't feeling great. Chuck even threw out a mention that he thought Jon may catch him -- he wasn't having his finest race and was digging for motivation. Steve and Thomas both seemed really loose and trying to just enjoy the day.

I completed lap 2 in 2:26 (4:49 total) and arrived at the start/finish area feeling quite haggard. My only request from Heidi was a few Tylenol before I filled up my bottles, applied sunscreen and left. It was getting hot now and I had gone out fast, so I was already expecting the next two laps to be a real battle. My lone wish was that I hadn't been so cavalier about the heat -- it was "only" 80 degrees -- and taken more dramatic measures to stay cool. I forgot my hat in Colorado and wound up with a burnt forehead among other things... I forgot/neglected to employ many of the tricks I told my friends about.

Lap 3 - 45.9 miles

The uphill section of Lap 3 was a real grind. I did my best to run all of it (and think I managed to) but it was taking a HUGE toll on me. I could tell I was breathing hard and starting to overheat. At each aid station, I would ask the volunteers to put ice in my buff around my neck. I wish I had also worn my arm sleeves and put ice in them as well -- a trick I told Jon about and he used quite successfully! I took toe stubs along the technical section, once going completely down. Ugh. This race was real now.

I once again arrived at Jackass Junction, this time getting soda for my calories. I should have been using these aid stations to catch up on water. Instead, I would just fill up my bottles to the top and take off. The trouble was that I'd gulp down half my bottle before I was half a mile down the trail and then half to start conserving it in order to make it to the next aid station. I bet my drink rate was approaching 40 oz an hour, close to what I had done at Western States this year. On top of being 80 degrees, the dry, breezy air contributed to drying runners out.

On the cruiser downhill, I found myself slowing down and wanting to walk. Uh-oh. Now I knew I was in real trouble and began to wonder how I'd make it through my last lap. Truthfully, I briefly wondered if I should continue at all. Those thoughts quickly left my head as I thought about how much I put my family through (and how much I personally invested) in getting to this race. I was going to finish this race even if I had to walk the last lap.

Halfway between Jackass Junction and the start/finish area, two guys set up a tent and were serving Otter Pops. It was difficult to eat and run, but I managed to put down two of them! I was fatiguing fast, but I continued to push on and made my way to the start finish area with a lap time of 2:40 (7:30 total time). There were moments where I pondered the possibility of a 10 hour finish. While I was technically on pace, I knew I was fading too hard for that to happen. The good news was that I was far enough ahead of pace to leave a headlamp behind, figuring worst case was that I'd walk a few miles in the dark to finish, if I blew up THAT BAD. (I nearly did.)

Lap 4 - 61.4 miles

The woman working at the aid station dumped ice cold water my head and introduced me to her husband, Brian, one of the two gentleman that had been following me at the end of loop 2. He waited for me and was hoping we'd work together on our final lap. He did a great job motivating me and we chatted for several miles, but I eventually had to tell him to keep going as I implemented a walk-run strategy to minimize the damage done.

I was extremely dehydrated and just felt fried. I had nothing in the tank. That said, I was proud of the effort I gave in constantly finding the will to run after short breaks, often pushing the run segments I had negotiated with myself longer than I agreed to! Brian had mentioned to me that there were 4 runners ahead of us when he checked at the aid station. (We later learned live tracking was having issues all day and that was wrong.) I began using my placement in the race as motivation to keep working hard and just hoped those behind me were hurting too. I ran out of water about a mile before Jackass Junction and became desperate to get there.

This time, I drank a ton of fluid at the aid station before heading out. I also had them dump water on me (it was too dry and my shirt wouldn't stay wet) and washed some of the salt off my face -- the latter felt amazing. Nothing much changed with the onslaught of fluids though, lots of walk/run and just pushing myself as far as I my mind would allow. Finally, a man in the 100k passed me. I tried briefly to keep up with him but could only muster the energy for about a quarter mile. I tucked in behind a woman that seemed to be struggling too and used her to pace me. She'd walk hills and then run, so I copied her. Then another 100k runner flew by me. He had to be running close to 9 pace and I didn't bother to keep up with him. I then realized the woman I was following was a 100 mile runner and decided to dig a bit deeper and try to avoid getting passed again. I was sick of my iPod and messed with turning it on and off again about every 15 mins. The encouragement from other runners was great, but I felt terrible and didn't have much energy left to reciprocate their well wishes. I was also struggling to deal with the reality of my situation.

I arrived at the final aid station (2 miles from the finish) and resolved to run the remaining distance no matter what. I topped off on fluids and headed down the trail. This section is undulating and I gave it everything I had to keep from walking. Eventually, I had to stop briefly to untie my shoe because the top of my right foot was killing me. About each tenth of a mile I'd look over my shoulder to make sure no one was coming. No one was, but I continued to run anyway.

Just before arriving at the finish, I saw Jon heading out for his 5th lap and he looked very good, and I was happy for him. Then I caught up to Wyatt -- who looked a bit rough -- and said hello to him. I finished the fourth loop in 3 hours flat, good for 10:30 total time and 8th place overall. I beat my goal time by close to an hour, but somehow felt awful about how the race had gone down. The last lap was such a struggle and I HATE getting passed that late in a race. I could tell from the salt on my clothes that I was dehydrated. It took almost a gallon of water and several cups of broth before I began feeling better.


I was the first one of the eight guys in our crew to finish, so I hung out at the finish line to watch them all finish. First was Mike, who dropped from the 100 mile at the 100k mark. Then Steve and Thomas finished the 100k (Thomas also dropping from the 100 mile). Then Chuck finished the 100 mile (his second in 2.5 months). Then Wyatt and finally Jon (his first 100 in an impressive 20:23). All in all, I was at the finish line for 9 hours waiting for my friends. I spent that time enjoying the live music, some Freak Brothers Pizza, and a half dozen trips to the aid station for food (mostly pickles and broth). I tried to nap in people's tents at the finish, but I was in too much pain (and still cramping), plus I wanted to see my friends each time they came through.

We finally arrived back our hotel and hit the sheets about 4 am, a full 24 hours after I'd woken up. The night's sleep was short and we woke up early, mostly due to the discomfort of tossing and rubbing against the sheets. Sleeping after an ultra is the worst! So, we headed into town and got some junk food. After 18 months on a strict diet, some crappy food was just the recipe to indulge and enjoy the moment. We spent Sunday eating junk food and watching football as we recounted the day's events through a series of conversations with all our running group. It was really a good time and well worth staying in Arizona the extra day. Sharing stories is half the fun of these events, but that moment can get lost if you rush home to normal life. I am quite proud of all my friends for putting themselves out there.

After some reflection, I have come to peace with my race (and my overall season). I may have been able to make a few changes that would have made the final lap more comfortable, but I don't think it was going to dramatically change the outcome. The theme was much the same as my year: good energy and a good gut plus a bit of mental fortitude led me to a very good race performance. I raced four times and pretty much met or exceeded my own expectations in each of those races. I don't know what 2016 holds, but I do know that I am over due for some rest and gym time.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bear Chase 50k - Race Report

My employer sponsors a run club and each year we get a small amount of money to be put toward race fees if we participate in the club. I chose to have my fees put toward the Bear Chase 50k this year as an opportunity to break-up my last month of training for the year and prepare for my upcoming Javelina Jundred (100k). I did a bit of specific work to prepare, but mostly just logged some miles and did a mini-taper (a few days) heading into the race. It was apparent the day was going to get hot, which is good because Javelina will likely be warm as well. I typically handle the heat pretty well, but it still impacts race performance!

Since I carpooled with my buddy Woody, I picked up both our bibs on Friday and we enjoyed a leisure morning arriving at the race by 6:45 am (7:30 start) and just milled round as we waited for the start. I had my typical breakfast (a few eggs before leaving the house and an Epic Bar at the start line) before taking some Vespa thirty minutes before the start. I lathered in some sun screen and got myself ready to go.

Note that they changed the location of the start/finish area due to the flooding this Spring, so my description of some of the miles may not match previous year's events.

First Lap (Blue Course)

Part of what made the Bear Chase appealing as a tune-up for JJ is the loops the course uses. Of course, no one enjoys a loop course, but it does offer some advantages in terms of logistics on race day. Bear Chase sends the 50k runners out later than the 100k and 50m runners and on their shorter (10k) course to start. In doing some pre-race analysis, I thought I could run 4:45 and was considering going out at 9:15 pace and then seeing how it felt after a few miles. Well, as soon as we started, I threw that out the window and was running close to 8:15 pace right out of the gate. Had it not been for Mt Carbon, my first mile likely would have been near 8-flat.

The first lap went by pretty quickly and easily, with only a little bit of vertical gain after the Mt Carbon climb. I knew I was in the top 10 runners but had no idea where inside the top 10. I drank water only as I attempted to allow my gut to settle in and get my aerobic/fat-burning engine going. Toward the end of the first lap, two runners passed me, the only two that would pass me all day. I came into start/finish area in good spirits and topped off water before grabbing some Tailwind out of my drop bag. I felt pretty juiced and ready to see what the day had in store.

Second Lap (Orange Course)

Leaving for the second loop, my average pace was around 8:40 and I knew I had put myself out there. The only choice now was to go for it and see how long I could hold on. Though the field was still pretty sparse, I was now coming up on some 50m runners and it became difficult to know who I was encountering along the course. The next trip up Mt Carbon was a real burner and I got my HR deep into Zone 5, pretty much putting me on notice that my third trip up was going to involve some hiking.

During mile 10, we split off to go out around the Fox Hollow Golf Course and some pretty enjoyable miles, including 3 water crossings. I had mixed my Tailwind too thick (200 Kcals in a single bottle) and was using every aid station as a chance to top off my bottle and water it down. But, it was pretty clear today was a water-only kind of day after this first bottle -- the effort level and the heat were not conducive to taking in Kcals. I was in a pretty good groove until we start running on the trail along Morrison Rd, where it became clear I was red lining myself and the second half of the race was going to hurt. There are several short, steep climbs along this section that really take the steam out of you. Most of them were just steep enough to want to hike, but short enough to not want to hike. I chose hiking, mostly.

I came through the start/finish area once again and took only water and another serving of Vespa. This time I was a bit less enthused as I left, really wanting to get the final Mt Carbon climb over with.

Final Lap (Orange Course)

I ran pretty well until Mt Carbon and then I hiked the entire .3 mile segment, too much burn in the legs to run it a third time. The descent and miles along Fox Hollow treated me well, including 30 sec stops in each water crossing to drench my shirt and legs. By mile 24, I was hurting bad and wondering how I was going to run for another hour. I started trying to figure out what my finish time would be if I averaged 10 minute miles. My legs were so dead the miles felt like 10 - 10:30 pace, but I managed to fight through and put in a couple more sub-9s, including walking all the steep hills in this section. During the 27th mile, I could see both runners ahead that had passed me. I would gain on them and then they'd put ground on me. There just wasn't enough gas left in the tank to catch them and I began wondering if I might get caught, so I promised myself I wouldn't walk a step -- show no weakness!

After doing a mini-out-and-back segment to the park entrance and we turned back toward the start/finish area for the last time, I became relieved knowing it would be over soon and that I was likely in fine shape to finish well and without being caught. I crossed the line in 4:33, 9th place overall and 2nd in my AG. A pretty stout 2 hour improvement on my 50K PR (though that race had 8400 feet of vert!).

I will say that I was really impressed with the management of this race. The start/finish area, while not their typical one, was great and very easy to work with aid and drop bags. The timing, bibs, busing, everything went smooth. As is typical for me, I found the trail harder than I expected, namely some reasonably technical section that left my ankles a bit stiff the next few days and some sandy sections that were tough to get great traction in. And, a fair amount of the track was narrow biking track. None of that is bad, just things to note if you ever plan to do the race. For a guy that likes to do lots of vertical, this race presented a real challenge because it was so runnable. The consistency of running for that long is not something I do often (without hiking).

I spent the remainder of the day on the couch, totally wrecked and experiencing some issues from the heat and dehydration. I've bounced back pretty good at this stage and feel good to continue training for JJ, if I can muster up the motivation!