Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Leadville 100 ~ 2015 Race Report

Guest post ~ Chuck Radford

Here it is …a race report only because I want to look back and recall some of the unfathomable events that happened on this day …this crazy, cool, amazing day.

A bit of history: Signing up for the Leadville Trail 100 was an impulse reaction when I did not get into the coveted Western States 100 race for 2015. However, when I found out in January that I got into the Leadville Trail 100 race, my emotional reaction was, “YES …CRAP …well, time to get on board.”

I officially started training at the end of March bleeding my off-season training into my regular training and not really seeing much difference except a little more structure. I ran a couple tune-up races to prepare for my LT100 adventure including the Dirty Thirty (50K), finishing 15th overall in a talented field and the Leadville Trail Marathon, finishing 3rd overall. I banked a couple long training runs with my final one being up in Leadville for a double Hope Pass crossing with good friend Mike Mizones. Unfortunately when we finished, we tried to relax with our feet in the water, and I fell, throwing myself (and my knee) into a rock to prevent myself from floating down the river.

I then dealt with a patella contusion for the next month …my PEAK training month, trying to work through pain, frustration and doubts. My peak training ended and I had logged a measly 50 miles a week before officially shutting it down a full week with no running the last week of July. That turned out to be the best decision of the month as it allowed my knee to fully heal and for me to log some “taper training” unlike I’ve ever done before. I was then faced with glute and IT band pains leading into the race, leaving me extremely doubtful, concerned and incredibly “stuck” trying to find a way to rise to the occasion.

Days before the race, I learned that iRunFar included me in their “Men to Watch” LT100 Preview, completely flabbergasting me. I actually found it to be an additional stress, even though my friends and family tried to get me to see that it wasn’t undeserved (it was solely based on my Leadville Trail Marathon finish, which I didn’t think translated into a small write up in the LT100 preview, but there it was).

With all the small details planned (house, pacers, crew, pacing plan, nutrition, etc.), AJ Wellman and I headed up to Leadville for a nice easy Hope Pass hike to get my legs flushed a few days before the race. We hit the race check in where I picked up bib, shirt and race bag, but something was just missing this year as there wasn’t the same excitement in the air. It was almost as if it was all business this year. I later realized that’s exactly what the whole race was about …business. AJ and I had numerous talks about things that didn’t go well last year and the goals for this year and how I could accomplish them. Goal #1: Stay positive; Goal #2: Eat less, but eat smart (approximately 100-150 calories/hr); Goal #3: Troubleshoot through the race; Goal #4: Keep it simple.

The next two days passed with some relaxation, the pre-race meeting, greeting my pacers, friends and family, and then trying to get a good night’s rest before race morning. Always easier said than done as you sit pondering on the pain, struggles, highs and lows you’re about to experience WILLINGLY the next morning on your 100 mile journey.

Race Morning:

As I did last year, I woke before my 2 am alarm, not able to sleep in anticipation and nervous energy before the race. I dressed, made coffee, eggs and bacon, and then woke everyone interested in going to the race start with me. I believe my comments to my wife were, “Oh my GOD, 100 miles!!!!” as a wave of anxiety ran through me. This was about to go down.

Jennifer (my supportive wife), Mia (my amazing daughter), Mike (my crew chief and section 2 pacer), Heidi (Mikes wife and a great friend), and Savannah (AJ’s daughter) all accompanied me to the race start. We took the obligatory family pictures, I gave kisses and hugs to all, tried to find my game face and lined up with all the other 100 mile hopefuls, as we waited for the official gun shot to kick off this little shin-dig of a day.

I stood in quiet, not able to find the spark or drive I thought I needed at this point to have a stellar day. I was curious how the day would play out. Ten second count down …headlamps turn on …watches start to beep …BANG …game on.

To MayQueen (Mile 13.5)

I found myself immediately running faster than anticipated with the goal out to the first aid station being around 8:35 pace. I tried to reel it in, but had a hard time knowing if I slowed too much, I’d fall into the train of people around the lake, so I kept moving, trying not to be irresponsible. We quickly moved down “The Boulevard,” up “Mini-Powerline” and around the lake and I realized I was running alone. I love training with friends, but prefer to zone out and run solo in races. I find the added chitchat and stress of passing or being passed an unnecessary stress that I don’t cope well with. I came into MayQueen about eight minutes faster than my plan. More than being concerned about being a little off my plan, I was noticing my glutes really talking to me already.

Hagerman Rd to Powerline
Race photos courtesy of Athlinks
To Outward Bound (Mile 24.5)

I spent only a minute at the MayQueen aid station and got right out onto the Colorado Trail up towards Hagerman Road. I traveled well through this section, continuing to feel my glutes, but passing runners and still not having any kind of feeling (good or bad) about how the race was going so far. I was kind of in a “blah” state of mind, but with 86 more miles to go, I guess there was time to figure all that out.

As I ran up to the top of Powerline, I saw my friend Matt Curtis, with whom I also ran a lot of LT100 in 2014. Knowing Matt better the other runners, I had no problem chatting and passing some miles with him leading into Outward Bound. While a supporter informed Matt and I that we were in 17th and 18th place, we both agreed that we were committed to running our own races regardless of place.

As we entered the Outward Bound aid station, I was energized knowing I was going to see my crew for the first time today after 3 and half hours. I ran straight up to them as they strategically placed themselves right next to the water station. I immediately noticed a small weather front moving through and worried my crew would be cold, but luckily it didn’t stick around long and even provided a nice rainbow (sign of things to come???). We replaced bottles, I ate an Epic bar, dumped my warm clothes, yelled “Peace out,” and headed out.

OB Crew station with AJ, Jon and Mia with a weather front behind us
To Halfpipe (Mile 31)

As part of my goal to stay positive, I made sure to smile, wave and thank all the great supporters and fans every time I saw them. Running up to Halfpipe is a nice non-technical area that allows you to grind out some good miles. While some of it is uphill, I tried to start pushing the pace a bit and gain some time. I was patient enough out to the first two aid stations and knew it was time to move with more effort if I had it. This is where experience comes in and knowing when you are pushing too hard or too little.

As I made my way to Halfpipe, I simply replaced water and some Skratch and blazed through it, high fiving a couple volunteers obviously eager to see the mass of runners heading their way.

Colorado Trail Section ~ Beautiful
To Twin Lakes (Mile 39.5)

This final section through the Mt. Elbert water station and further up the Colorado Trail was a good section for me last year. I find miles 30 – 39 are mentally tough as you really haven’t hit any big mile markers and you still have a TON more to do. This section is so amazingly beautiful and secluded that you have to take a few moments to soak it in. I encountered a few more runners and passed them, moving up a few more places. I was eagerly anticipating the hill down into Twin Lakes where you are displayed for all to see …and cheer.

As I ran down the hill into Twin Lakes, I once again was excited to see my family and for the first time realized I was feeling strong. I flexed my muscles coming in thinking that’d give them an idea of how I was feeling, but really ended up looking silly. I quickly sat down, changed my shoes, ate another Epic bar, took some Tylenol, swapped water bottles, gave kisses and felt incredibly confident all of a sudden. If there was a place to feel that kind of confidence, now was the time. Hope Pass killed me last year and was where I lost all the time I made up at that point in the race. It was time for revenge.

Flexing muscles - dork
My crew taking care of me like a race car
To Hopeless (Mile 45)

I headed out towards the meadow to a TON of cheers and even seeing some fellow running friends on the way. I made it to the base of Hope and started to ascend with a mission. I knew this was where my race could actually be made …or ruined. This was the official point where I decided to put myself out there and go for it, regardless of the result. I hiked with fervor and aimed to not stop once all the way to the Hopeless aid station. That’s exactly what I did. I never saw anyone in front of me or behind me and felt that I had my position locked at that point in the race in the 8th place. I was hiking like I was on fresh legs and not 40+ mile legs.

To Winfield (Mile 50)

After leaving Hopeless, runners ascend to the peak and then it’s a hair raising downhill descent into Winfield. As I worked my way up to the 12,600 foot peak, it started to rain and blow, leaving me a bit cold. However, that gave me more motivation to get off that mountain and down into Winfield. I peaked and to my amazement, I was able to actually run the downhills. It was becoming more and more apparent to me that my energy level and strength were so completely different from last year that it left me baffled. I eventually caught the 6th place runner and we flip-flopped spots all the way into Winfield.

Back to Hopeless (Mile 55)

Because this aid station is so remote, we sent a critical crew only into Winfield consisting of AJ, Mike and a good friend Jon, who came in early to be a part of the race. I quickly made it through the aid station, sat down in a chair, ate another Epic bar, swapped water bottles and exchanged a few words with another friend Wyatt Hornsby, whom I paced over this section in 2013. Winfield is the first section you can pick up a pacer, so I grabbed AJ (a great mountain climber) and we moved on out back towards the backside of Hope Pass.

If you don’t know, I fell six or seven times in last year’s race, leaving me frustrated and injured. I was happy I had made it 50 miles without falling once. Unfortunately, that was to change on the Sheep Gulch Trail as I shortly took my eyes off the trail and went down hard on my hand and leg. I quickly jumped back up and tried to shut out the pain, but it stung badly. With the 6th place runner right in front of me, I was committed to keep him in my sights, knowing full well that not only had my confidence been building, but so had my competitiveness.

All it took was one fall to do enough damage
After getting off the Sheep Gulch Trail, it was a hard turn left and up the belly of the beast, facing up to 40% inclines, a lack of oxygen and heavy humidity. We worked and we worked hard up that monster, claiming the 6th place position and moving in quickly on 5th place. AJ and I were all business while cracking jokes keeping the levity light. AJ reminded me numerous times that I was doing well and to just keep doing what I was doing. At times I worried I was going to pay for the workload I was giving now later in the race (I think even AJ was concerned). We caught the 5th place runner at the top of Hope Pass, but once we reached the peak, he floated away to an eventual 2nd place finish!

After some coaxing, I pledging to AJ that I’d climb hard to the top, where we were met with some technical downhill into Hopeless. Unfortunately we were also faced with a ton of outbound runners and a lot of cross traffic. After hitting Hopeless, AJ made me fill up my bottle with Skratch in the event he and I got split up on the downhill.

Back to Twin Lakes (Mile 60)

Again I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was running downhill …how was this possible? It goes back to my eating goal and having energy and good energy at that. The cross traffic runners were amazingly accommodating and moved out of the way as I made my way down. I made it to the meadow, through all the water sections and back into Twin Lakes with no more falls, but finding myself a little low on energy after all the effort I just put out on Hope Pass both ways. Running into Twin Lakes pepped me up though, as there were a ton of fans/supporters cheering me on.

Apparently everything was "thumbs up" at this stage of the race
Back to Halfpipe (Mile 69)

As I sat down at Twin Lakes, my wife (a Godsend) changed my wet shoes and socks for me (now that’s love) as I drank, applied sunscreen, replaced bottles and chatted strategy with crew. My daughter was immediately concerned about my cuts and bleeding, but I assured her I was fine. I thanked AJ for his pacing duties and picked up Mike as we headed out up the underrated 1400 foot climb out of Twin Lakes and into Halfpipe. I started to feel my stomach going “south” on the uphill climbs and let Mike know I’d do what I could. We worked a good run-walk strategy all the way into Halfpipe and troubleshot some ideas on what I could eat as my eating rate was dropping quickly. Like miles 30-39, I find miles 60-69 equally as difficult mentally, but Mike did well keeping me "up" and moving well through those sections. I had some watermelon with salt on it at the aid station and set out for a good long running section.

Back to Outward Bound (Mile 76)

Mike and I ran well six good miles with only a couple breaks and passed the time with good chatter. As we came into the unofficial Treeline station, my daughter was running up towards me. She turned and we ran back to the crew hand in hand. There was nothing really for me at Treeline except my amazing family and crew who continued to pep me up knowing this is where the race REALLY gets mentally (and physically) tough. I realized back at mile 40 that the intense body pain was manageable …not fun, but manageable, and that it’s the mental side of running that keeps you in the game late.

Still smiling 70+ miles in
After a short four mile road run and back through the field, we made it back to Outward Bound and to our crew again. A quick note: running is a raw sport and ugly things happen. Mike can attest to me running down the road with my shorts half way down (bare-butt to the world) as I rubbed some Biofreeze on my glutes before pulling my shorts back up. That’s ultra running at its finest ... but I didn’t pee on myself like last year sooooo …

Back to MayQueen (Mile 86)

I was once again hitting a bit of a low after dropping Mike off and picking up Jon for the final 24 miles. However, with a change of pacers, comes a change of venue and Jon really helped me pep up a bit heading up to the final HUGE climb up Powerline. 

Pep talk from Mike
Heading out for the final 24 miles with Jon
As we ran the road to the base of Powerline, we were informed by supporters that no one was behind us, but the 5th place runner was just ahead of us. Rejuvenated, we turned the corner and there he was. Even though I had little energy, I found the needed energy to pass him and busted a move up Powerline. It was a struggle beyond struggles, but I was once again so much stronger than last year and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was now in the TOP FIVE!!!

Last year at this same time, we were dawning headlamps and preparing for the dark. Jon and I made it this year all the way to the top of Powerline with tons of sunlight still shining. We came upon the unofficial aid station at the top. I sat down and we chatted for a few seconds with the fun volunteers. They informed us that the 4th and 3rd place runners were just ahead of us and none of them looked as strong as us or were moving as well as us. That was motivation to get out of that chair and MOVE.

We made it down a couple of switchbacks and up ahead was a runner. As good of a friend as Mike Aish is, I did NOT want to pass him. Unfortunately, he was struggling and we came up to Mike and Nick Clark and they very graciously cheered us on to catch the next guy. This put me into 4th place …freaking 4th place!

Back Home (Mile 100)

As we entered the MayQueen aid station, I realized just how hard I worked over Powerline and was really starting to feel it. Knowing Jon was eager to catch the 3rd place runner, I voiced my concern to my crew stating, “Jon’s gonna work me too hard.” ...and said it a couple times. I got a little negative, but gave hugs, grabbed my headlamp and we worked our way around the lake into the night hours. We did well moving up and down the rolling hills, taking breaks as needed, and I was running as much as I could.

We got to Boat Ramp, and I secretly made a personal pact that I was going to run all way to the parking lot (2+ miles) and I did. From there it’s a final struggle back up into town where we never did see the 3rd place runner, meaning he was moving as well as me.

We saw the lights of town FINALLY and then made our way to 6th St.. As we ran 6th St., we came across my wife, daughter and Mike. We all ran the final stretch and there I was …at the red carpet. I ran down the carpet, threw my hands up in the air as I crossed, and immediately fell, tripping on the carpet ...yeah, that happened. I bounced up and laughed knowing NOTHING was going to ruin that moment and gave Marilee (race co-founder) a hug and received my finisher’s medal.

Finish line

My recreation of falling across the finish line the next day
My goal was a sub-20 hour run …I finished in 18:43:14 in 4th overall and 2nd in the masters division. Business was conducted and I had accomplished my goal of having a good gut day, lots of energy and staying positive, which all contributed to a win for my family, my crew, my supporters and friends.

We headed home to some beer, a shower and some VERY uncomfortable sleep. I got up the next day and had the best breakfast burrito of my life before heading to the awards ceremony to claim my award, buckle, and sweatshirt.

I am absolutely blessed with an amazing crew. These people were my inspiration through the day, my light when I was dark, my motivators and my comfort. My wife and daughter are my rocks, my long time friends Mike and Heidi help me have fun and enjoy every moment, my friend Jon is always a running inspiration who often reminds me of my potential and skill, and AJ is my coach/training partner/blood brother. I truly hope they celebrated the day as much as me.

Left to right: Jon, AJ, Jennifer, Mia, Me, Mike, Heidi, Savannah ~ The "A" Team
If you know me, you know I am a humble person, a family man and a trusty friend. I live life like any other average Joe, balancing family, work and running. I prioritize things the best I can and try to prevent my passion of running from interfering with my family as I constantly sacrifice sleep to do so. Are there challenges?  Of course, but I only hope I can be a strong role model to my children and other runners. I am open and honest and am more than willing to give my thoughts, advice and support to anyone seeking it. If you ever want my thoughts, please reach out to me.

A shout out to Fuel 100 Electro-bites, Skratch Labs, Tailwind, Epic bars and Vespa as my running nutrition and to Hoka (Stinson) and Brooks (Pure Grit) as my running shoes. Anyone want to sponsor me? Please?  

Parting thoughts

Running 100 miles is like living 100 years with challenges, opportunities, celebrations and struggles. In life we start fresh, ready to take on anything and we are a bit ignorant of what’s in store. We learn from our failures and sometimes fail to learn as we go. As time progresses we know that each step could have a positive or negative reaction and yet we compel ourselves to move forward either putting ourselves out there or sitting back and watching. With each phase we grow, we learn to adapt, we are reminded fully of pain and how to mitigate it or accept it. We get tired, cranky, fed up, and yet life’s challenge somehow wills us on. We lean on our support systems more and more and we find new motivation and inspiration from those we love and those who want nothing but success and happiness for us. In the end, you inch closer and closer to an amazing reward of satisfaction, peace, accomplishment and a love of living. These thoughts somehow helped me piece together “why” we do this crazy sport of ultra-running live!!

**Special thanks to AJ for letting me guest post on his blog.  Check it out's got a wealth of information on it if you haven't seen it already.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Leadville 2015: Pacing and other thoughts

Warning, this one could ramble a bit....

First, I should set the stage. I've been running seriously for about six years now. My journey, as has been the case with my life, has always been about exploration and learning and tinkering. One core value for me has always been health. After ballooning to nearly 250 lbs before my 30th birthday, I decided that my 30's would be a decade where I focused on health, hoping that it would pay dividends later in life. Through that lens, I have always explored running as means of getting healthier and improving my life, not just performance. Not coincidentally, as my health improved, so has my performance. I have learned more about nutrition and physiology than some people who study them in school, because I have dared to follow those people teaching outside the box. Train easy to race fast. Eat less to run farther. Eat fat -- gobs and gobs of fat!

About half way into my journey, I met Chuck Radford, a co-worker of mine. As co-workers, we obviously saw each other quite a bit. But it was our mutual interest in running that really got us to be friends. Chuck is also an eager learner and has watched what I've done and taken what I've learned and applied it to his own running. I don't think of myself as his "coach" per se, but there is definitely an element of that in our relationship. These days, I really am just more of a friend and someone who can give him my thoughts and sometimes advice. I jokingly call myself his "mental coach".

Anyway, Chuck and I have been together through all of our ultras, pacing, crewing, and generally supporting one another. Our mutual friend, Jon, called it a "blood bond" we've made with one another. I like to think that my break-through race at Western States 100 this year inspired Chuck. This weekend, he took the lead and inspired me to wonder if I have new levels I can achieve, finishing 4th at the Leadville 100.

When Chuck signed up for Leadville I agreed to pace. I was also to be his pacer in 2014 before injuring myself on a training run the day before and having to stick with crew duty. We joked that year that none of us would be able to keep up with him. As it turned out, he had a pretty good race (as ho-hum as sub-21 hours can be!), but none of his pacers struggled to keep up with him. This year, I requested to pace him for 25 miles, thinking I was going to be able to hang. As the weeks went by, I decided give up some pacing miles so I could spend more time in the mountains that weekend and not have to "taper" for the experience. I enjoy climbing and getting out in nature on adventures and figured that would be a good compromise. That was such a good decision....

Chuck went out at what we thought was an aggressive pace (hindsight suggests he went out quite conservatively) and we knew it was game on. He was at least 25 minutes faster than we expected into Twin Lakes and we hurried out to Winfield to await him and my pacing section. Last year, Hope Pass really gave him a tough time and it took nearly 6.5 hours for him to do the double cross. This year, he arrived at Winfield just a bit before 12:30 and ready to rock. He was focused and composed. Without much lost time, we took off and by the time we got on the Sheep Gulch Trail, he was already pushing me. PUSHING ME. This guy has 50 miles on his legs and I am working hard to hang! I stayed a consistent 15-20 yards behind him, trying to keep up and trying to yield the right away to the runners (he was in 7th place, so pretty much the entire field) coming at us. It was difficult jumping into a pacing section in the heat of the day and without having had lunch. I was sweating like crazy. Mercifully, we started going up the mountain and I was able to catch up and chat with him. He moved very well, rarely stopping, but climbing is definitely a strength of mine. Plus, the wind was blowing near the top of the pass and cooling me off. We saw many of our friends (Matt C, Woody, Trevor, Jeremy B) coming back at us along the way.

Cresting the top, we found we caught two runners. One runner we easily passed on our way to Hopeless aid station. The other, Kyle Pietari, seriously floated down the mountain on his way to a 2nd place finish. That was quite impressive. I helped Chuck fill his water bottles at Hopeless and told him not to look back for me going down, sensing he was going to drop me easily. And he did. Within a tenth of mile I could barely see his orange shirt up 100 yards in the forest. I was on the way to breaking everyone of my Strava segment PRs on this section and I still couldn't hang! (Jon later told me he and I ran the second fastest split over this section all day.) Once again, I tried to yield to the on-coming runners, many of whom were just starting their first Hope Pass ascent and likely not going to finish. But, I had to have looked like a rhino rumbling down the mountain and many of them got out of the way just out of fear, I think. One or two even joked about him "working me hard". Indeed. I wasn't even thinking about pacing at this point, just trying not to get dropped and the teasing my friends would have given me back at Twin Lakes. Oh, and trying not to do a face plant on the rocks and tree roots in my path.

We arrived at the meadow and he seemed to slow a bit, allowing me to go into threshold pace and actually catch him. I got to jog (for him, run for me) the final few miles into Twin Lakes where he seemed to gain some energy as I began exhaling. I survived. No way I would have lasted the next 16 miles with him -- so glad I "gave up" those pacing miles. I will let him tell his story, but the short version is that he had just done a double Hope Pass crossing in 5 hours after running 40 miles!!! That was the moment we all knew he had a chance to make it a special day, and he pushed on for 40 more miles and delivered (4th overall in 18:43). I retired to a chair with some beer, happy for my friend and knowing I'd be sore as hell the next day.

This is about as close as I got to him during my "pacing" section. Who's pacing who?

A big thanks to my daughter for capturing my humbling moment

I am still thinking about 2016, but, as I said, Chuck has inspired me to think about new levels I may have. I thought maybe my 23:30 at Western States was my ceiling. Of course, I thought his ceiling at Leadville was 19:30. In fact, I am pretty sure I told him outright I didn't think he could break 19-hours at Leadville, something only a few dozen runners have ever done. He proved me wrong in a big way. And maybe that's the kind of thing I need moving ahead. Leadville is definitely on my short list for 2016. A big buckle is still one of my few remaining running goals. If not for the lottery, I may have already committed to that plan.

I keep thinking I'll give up 100s, but it is addicting. So much happens in those 24 hours that you just cannot explain to people. So much life. So much pain. So much joy. So much bonding. It truly is a transcending experience, impossible to explain to someone not present in that moment. Thanks to my daughter, I recently started listening to Zac Brown Band. And when I hear their song "Beautiful Drug", I think of running 100s. What a perfect, beautiful drug....

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Altra Superior 2.0 Review

I've been meaning to do some updates on Altra shoes for a little while now. Unfortunately, I haven't had much time and I really want to wear shoes for 200-300 miles before I critique them. I was really excited to learn of the Altra Superior 2 release over the winter and quickly snagged a pair of size 12.5 in black. I had the original Superior and liked them a lot. My hope was that they would be a trail version of One Squared, one my favorite shoes I've ever worn (and I'll review soon). The original fit of the shoe and feel of the shoe made me quite optimistic that they were at least close to achieving that....

Things I liked:
In general, I found the shoes very comfortable and light weight. Even as a larger runner, I enjoy more minimal feeling shoes and these fit the bill. Also, I felt quite comfortable wearing them as a road shoe when circumstances dictated (like combined road/trail runs during the winter months). I think they nailed the cushion aspect -- just enough enjoy the ride, but not so much that you couldn't feel the road or trail beneath your feet. I really found this an upgrade over the previous models that had significant trail feel and were much heavier. The upper material is quite breathable and dries fast as well. The lugs are more aggressive and grippier than earlier models. The addition of the gaiter trap is a great feature in this shoe as well. And, I think the "removable" rock plate is a genius idea! However, I find myself wanting to put that rock plate in other shoes (like Byron Powell) these days, because...

Things I disliked:
Honestly, the simplest thing to say is that the shoe feels quite cheap to me -- a shoe built to last about 250 miles. I don't mind having a shoe like that, but not at a $110 price tag. Pretty much every element of the shoe is falling apart quickly from 150 miles on. At 200 miles, I completely blew out the lateral side of my first pair. I called customer service and was told that was a common problem. I checked reviews on their website and many customers reported the same issues. I have two friends that have had blow outs on the lateral side as well (one at 122 miles and another at 250 miles). As an aside, they seem to have purged all their reviews from their site, eliminating at least a dozen poor reviews of the Superior 2. I know some of the former reviewers. I don't know if this was on purpose, but it sure stinks.

In addition to my lateral tear, you can see very rapid wear in the lugs both in the front and the back of the shoe. The lugs in the front appear to be chipping away and creating edges that would likely catch and shred, if the shoe was still wearable, that is....

Total shred on the lateral side.... fail!

Cheap looking lugs!

Lugs wearing and showing gaps.
Some lugs off a friend's pair after 232 miles

Another issue I consistently have with Altra is their sizing. I measure out at a true size 11.5 but sometimes wear all the way up to a 13 due to their screwy shoe fits. I found the size 12.5 pretty snug around the tips of my toes -- to the point I got blisters on the tips of my toes on a 38 mile run. I later purchased a pair of size 13s (that I still own and wear). The size 13s feel gigantic to me. How can a size 12.5 feel so tight and a size 13 feel so large? I had the same issue with the original Olympus. Anyway, the newer pair (not pictured) is showing significant wear along the toe-bumper area from toe-scuffs. This section appears like it will wear out quickly as well.

Overall I really find these a comfortable shoe that nearly hit the mark as a serious shoe for those not inclined to go with more and more cushion. The changes from the original Superior were spot on to establish the shoe in this space. Unfortunately, it is a continuation in a long line of quality issues for Altra. And, I continue to find myself wishing that Altra would start to refine what they do instead of reinventing themselves every six months. I'd like to seem some standardization among the lasts they uses so the heel, forefoot, and midfoot are more consistent from model-to-model and year-to-year. I'd also like to see them consider wide options because a wide toe box does not mean a wide shoe.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Moving on from Western States

I feel compelled to write one more post before I let it go. I am approaching two weeks since the race and my moment in the sun has come and gone. People and life move on to the next story (and are probably sick of me on Facebook by now!). Yet, I feel a sense of accomplishment for what I've done and am not eager to prove anything. That is definitely a different feeling from many races in the past. I just finished 78th in the most prestigious ultra marathon in the world. Seventy-eighth may not sound like such a big deal, but is huge for a 190 lb "Clydesdale" athlete running in heat. Make no mistake, the stats prove this was a hot year -- tons of drops and, other than Superman Rob Krar, relatively slow times. Some years 78th place is a 22:30 finishing time.

Anyway, I am content because I feel like all my hard work is starting to payoff. I've learned how to train. I understand nutrition, like I really get it (though don't confuse that with me saying I am perfect at it!). I am not afraid to dig deep and suffer. And, I am gaining a sense of how to pace these races, when to go easy, when to make a move, what's sustainable and for how long. My recovery time -- at least in physical pain -- is diminishing with each race thanks to smart nutrition and proper specific training. There are plenty of things I need to work on, like my feet. I still get this awful blister on my left foot that I must figure out. Is it my gait? Is it hydration related? Is it my downhill running form? Is it poor shoe (or size) selection?

The leads to another thing I am working on, shoes. I don't have any many love shoes right now. I default to Altra primarily because they have wide toeboxes. It helps that they reinvent their line up every few months and you can always find great deals on old models too! Frankly, Altra has several warts in my opinion: inconsistent sizing from shoe-to-shoe and year-to-year, something close to 50% of their shoes have major defects, and they seem more insistent on growth than refining the things they do well. But, the zero drop platform and the wide toebox keep me coming back. What I wouldn't give for a wide model of the Instinct and the Lone Peak. Oh well, I'll keep searching for something better. And, while I'm searching, I think I will once again make an attempt to go back to shoes that are more in the "minimal" category. That may seem strange for a larger athlete, but I prefer it. My feet feel more nimble, my cadence is higher, and I just feel more natural. Going to big cushion (Altra Olympus) certainly hasn't diminished my foot or knee issues in 100s. But big cushion shoes have definitely added weight and lengthened dry time for wet shoes.

As for future races, I still haven't made any official decisions. I do know that I enjoy mountains and trail running. I enjoy slow running, hence my preference for MAF based training. But, I also recognize that the best way to grow as a runner is to do different things. Take time off. Strength train. Road run. We grove certain patterns in ultra running and put a ton of stress on our bodies, in particular the exoskeleton. Sometimes the best thing is to pullback and figure out how to get better and evolve. Plus, it would be a mistake to think that many -- if any -- races will ever go as well for me as Western States. I put all my eggs in that basket and that just won't be easy to do a second time. It put a huge stress on my body, my family time, and my mental focus. Running is part of my identity now and, if I want to continue running for a lot of years, I have to find a peace in my previous accomplishments instead of always chasing the glory of what's next. Given the way the system is structured, I'll likely get into the lotteries again next year only because I don't want to eliminate future opportunity. I'd be just fine if my name didn't get drawn next year. To be totally honest (and selfish), I would absolutely love to comeback to WS100 as a crew member and pacer in 2016!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Western States 100 Race Report

Incredible to be crossing that finish line. Overwhelming.

I wrote a pretty detailed post on what went right for me at WS100. I may touch on some of those topics here, but I will leave out any real detail to save on space. And, I am going to do things a bit different and separate the race into logical parts instead of aid-by-aid as there were twenty-one of them.

One of the great parts about running Western States is that there is no shortage of information on-line: race reports, opinions, articles, blogs, etc.. You can literally drive yourself mad with information. I took all of it in, but tried to keep my mind open to how things would unfold on race day. While I am at it, I could say this over and over again, so I'll just say once that the race is absolutely phenomenally well done. The aid stations are unrivaled in any ultra that I've done -- lively, helpful, well-stocked, and uplifting. It was incredible to have them so frequently late in the race just to allow you to break the race into manageable chunks. Execute for an hour and there would be another aid station where you could recharge.


We arrived in Squaw on Thursday afternoon and went to the crew meeting right away. Of course, we took the required "under the start line" picture that every runner takes. Pretty exciting stuff. It felt quite warm -- in the high 80's at 6000 feet. It wasn't super concerning to me because I knew Saturday and Sunday were the best weather days in the forecast. Later that evening my buddy Steve arrived and we hung out in our shared cabin and shared lots of pre-race banter. This is always one of the most memorable parts of a race like this, just hanging out with friends and family. It was quite remarkable how everyone pitched in to cook, clean and just keep the show moving! Everyone wanted to rest and soak up the experience, but things needed to get done. Having a few moms on the support crews always helps in that regard (as well as other areas).

With my crew/pacers on Thursday.

Friday is a bit more business as the runners must check-in and attend a required race meeting in the afternoon. Like everything at WS100, the runner check-in was smooth and well organized. They move you along from station to station -- pictures, weigh-in, gear bag -- like a machine. And the gear is amazing, hundreds of dollars in swag: arm warmers, Mountain Hardware bag, race shirt, buff, two hats, and more. Incredible.

While Friday was more about business, we still managed to find some time to goof around and watch our pacers run the Montrail Vertical 6K Challenge, a free race open the day before WS100. There was a slight course re-route this year, but they still had fun.

Chuck and Mike all smiles before heading uphill!

After the hustle of the morning and afternoon, we went back to our cabin and just relaxed. Everyone wanted to watch USA against China in the Women's World Cup as we relaxed and prepared for a hectic Saturday morning. Once the race started, the crews had to check out and then race us to Duncan Canyon (mile 23). It is deep in the canyons and a three hour long drive for them. I hadn't slept well on Thursday night so I took a Tylenol PM to help me fall asleep. That was a great move because I got without a doubt the best night of sleep pre-100 that I've ever had. I even woke to use the restroom at 2 am and immediately went back to sleep, no restless thoughts at all.

High Country (Start to Dusty Corners)

Steve and I both had the idea to start easy, so we nestled ourselves back a bit at the start line. The shotgun went off and we ran about 100 yards before settling into a hike up the resort road. It didn't take long for me to realize that Steve wasn't going to hang with me. I began grinding on some of the flatter parts of the climb to keep from averaging 20 min miles up the road and he quickly let me go. The dirt road was pretty as you climbed up away from the valley floor. They turn on the resort lights so you don't need a headlamp and the sun comes up quickly, allowing you to see the beautiful terrain.  Before long you climb the Escarpment, which is a steep, single-track hill right before the summit. And then we began heading downhill toward Lyon Ridge.

Climbing the Escarpment

After talking with a couple of friends that ran the race previously, I was prepared for this section, but the trail back here wasn't easy. It was typical high alpine trail: rocky, full of wild flowers, over grown with vegetation and had a few marshy sections from remaining run-off. This isn't the kind of trail you could bomb, particularly with a conga line of runners all around you. It really would have taken a runner that was obviously below your speed to even want to pass, which I only did a few times. This situation remained until the final stretch into Lyon Ridge, which turned to runnable double track. Along this final stretch to aid, I met my first on-course veteran that told me just to be patient. He had made his way up from 200+ places back and nearly Silver Buckled a few years back. His theory was to "own the night". That was good advice for me as I came through Lyon Ridge in 182nd place, though I didn't know that for many hours to come.

From Lyon Ridge to Duncan Canyon, the course reminded me a lot of sections of the San Juan Solstice 50, without the altitude. It was beautiful alpine running through forested areas and along some ridges with beautiful views. While it was net downhill, there were plenty of uphill sections to keep you guessing and constantly evaluating your work rate. This was the one section where I had lots of questions about my slow start, knowing I was nearing 15 mins behind pace already. These debates in my head would last for a few hours, but I never made panic decisions. I arrived at Duncan Canyon (mile 23) ready to see crew so I could pick up my hot weather gear -- it was heating up big time. The aid station felt hurried even though I was very precise in telling them what I wanted. My sister seemed a little concerned so I assured them that I had been eating and things were going well. As an aside, I think all the WS100 aid stations felt a bit hurried because there are so many people talking to you -- crew, pacer, volunteers. You have to make a lot of decisions and process lots of thoughts!

Cruising on the high alpine ridges on my way to Duncan Canyon

Switching to my desert strategy with a cool buff and hat at Duncan Canyon.
Giving precise demands to my crew!

Eating an Epic Bar, solid food was good to me all day

One other general observation before I move on, the WS100 course is dusty! You were literally eating dust from runners as they ran by you. You can see it all over my shirt and legs in the above photo from just running -- I was not yet wet nor had I fallen.

After leaving Duncan Canyon, there is a bit more technical downhill as you head toward canyon bottom. One of the other race veterans (he was running for his 10th buckle) I ran into on the course said he thought the climb to Robinson Flat was worse than the canyon climbs. Now having done them all, he may be right. It was longer, more technical and in the direct sunshine. It was the only climb of the day that I would remotely say I struggled on. And, now that I have had time to reflect and hear others' thoughts, it seems this was indeed a critical point in the race. Many of the runners suffered as it was hotter than normal this early in the day. It seems this climb effectively ended the race for a good portion of the field. Nonetheless, I made it to the top in good shape and was rewarded with a hopping aid station where I got cooled down.

There is a small bit of climbing after Robinson before you embark on the downhill half marathon to Last Chance aid station. Honestly, it never felt that downhill and there were plenty of rolling hills to compensate. Halfway through the marathon I arrived at Dusty Corners (mile 38 and appropriately named!) to see my crew again. I asked and they said Steve was struggling but they were having a hard time telling for sure because the on course tracking seemed goofy for him. I once again refueled and got cooled off before continuing onto the canyons. This time, a helpful volunteer filled my buff with ice and formed a bit of a pouch to hold it. Wow did that slowly melting ice feel great on the back of my neck!! I tried to make the most of this visit because it would be over four hours before I saw my crew again, including the two big famous canyon climbs. Somewhere along this stretch I noted from my watch that we had climbed nearly 7,000 feet in the first 30 miles of the course, or just a few hundred feet less than the Dirty 30 I had run early this year. Clearly, the high country is a tough 30+ miles of ultra running.

The Canyons (Dusty Corners to Foresthill)

Leaving Dusty Corners, I remained with a couple of guys that I would see a lot more over the next 14 hours. One finished slightly behind me and one slightly in front. One of them, Chris, had some experience on the course; I never quite figured out if he had done the the event before or just the training runs. I began asking him questions about our pace and if 24 hours was reasonable, to which he replied that he had us on 23 hour pace. He said we would be able to make up time on Cal Street and the traditional pacing for 24 hours was bunk. He seemed so confident that I took some mental energy from it and I began using him as a pacer. If he walked, I'd walk. My crew had given me an iPod at Dusty Corners and I felt strong and ready to push it, but I knew it was too early. That is one mistake I've made several times in past. On our way to Last Chance, we ran past Pucker Point, which was one of the more beautiful sections of trail I've seen. I even stopped a moment to admire the view.

At Last Chance (mile 43) aid station, I had four people cooling me off at one time! It is amazing the work they do. They once again filled my buff with ice too. A kind volunteer gave me a brief run down of what was to come and I shook his hand before leaving the aid station. I hurried out of the stations just so I could to keep following Chris. I was kind of zoned out and chatter was minimal, but it was a good way to continue feeling confident with my effort level. After a few miles he announced "here comes the fun", and we proceeded to drop straight down into the canyon. It was very hot and the downhill was relentless and reasonably technical. It really sucked the energy out of me and my mind got a little down. My downhill "skills" were on full display and I could hear people catching up to me as the temperature got higher and higher in the full sun exposure. The descent went on for a long time and I was braking the whole way. We finally got to the bottom and I followed another runner into the American River to cool off before crossing the Swinging Bridge and heading up the canyon wall. The river was plenty deep and I got wet up to my waist before bending over and dunking my head. I didn't lay down because I kept my pack on the whole time.

My attitude changed immediately when going uphill, mostly because I could tell I was climbing better than everyone. The canyon climbs are not as bad as advertised, in my opinion, since they are on the shaded side of the canyon. I easily caught everyone that passed me on the way down, and a few more that were really struggling and starting to fall apart in the heat. When I got to Devil's Thumb aid station at the top, I was instantly picked up gain by a rockus aid station. I did make a smart choice to take off my shoes and empty rock as well as tighten the lace job, the latter I'd wanted to do for 20 miles now. After another cold water rinse, I was off to Eldorado Creek.

The descent was once again a real bugger. This time I even walked sections just to stop braking all the time. At the bottom, I decided not to get wet in the river because there was an aid station and I let them drench me in water instead. My momentum was starting to build with each aid station and I could feel it. The rhythm and pattern to my day were going perfect. And, the heat and the canyon climbs (starting at Robinson) just weren't bothering me as much as the field. Heat training? I still didn't know any placements, but I knew that I was moving up just by being consistent and leaving aid stations ahead of other runners. My mental energy was continuing to grow. I once again pushed hard up the climb. The second half is even a bit runnable, so I ran sections of it!

Emerging from the climb and into the Michigan Bluff was one of the highlights of the day. Again, a very energetic aid station full of people cheering me on. It was good to see my crew after such a long time and completing both the big canyons climbs. I could have stood there all day and soaked up the energy from that crowd, very cool...

Arriving at Michigan Bluff and looking for my crew.

Getting the full service cool down at Michigan Bluff
Chuck and my sister were noticeably excited to see me and it almost seemed they weren't expecting me so soon. It turns out they barely made it there in time and they could also sense my momentum building with each aid station. They had been in text contact with our friend Jon and learned that I was moving up in the race quickly (now 91st). Between the excitement of my crew and all the crowd support, I got a real emotional high and was amped to get moving into the third of the three in the "canyons" portion of the course, Volcano Canyon. Volcano is the smallest of the three and I managed to move through it without much issue, other than the steep parts of the descent again. My right knee was starting to really bug me from all the downhill.

At the top of Volcano Canyon, Chuck was waiting to greet me at Bath Road (mile 60). He was smiling at the sight of my progress and we gave the Bath Road climb a pretty good power hike heading into Foresthill. I acknowledged to Chuck that I knew 24 hours was in play and that I wanted to push for it. However, as we had previously discussed in meetings, we had to be careful to not lose our heads, pounding down Cal Street at record pace. Just as importantly, we had to keep with the rhythm and pattern that we'd had all day -- staying cool, nutrition -- everything had to continue. The first order of business was making another wise decision and taking 10 mins at Foresthill to change socks, add a knee brace to my aching right knee, tape my blistered left foot, and rub some "magic stuff" on my sore quads. This aid station is the largest in the race and another big pick me up as huge crowds of people cheered me on.

Rolling into Foresthill with Chuck

Cal St (Foresthill to the river)

It was great to have a pacer and run some cruiser hills on benign trail as we caught up on the day's events. Chuck was texting from behind me like mad and keeping me up to date on the race results, Steve's status (dropped from the race), and what my sister was doing. We were able to clip along at an 11 or 12 min pace as we made up time on the course and tried to make the daylight last. Cal-1 was a quick stop as we refueled and continued heading down. Somewhere along here I remarked to Chuck just how incredible this course is and how much I enjoyed it. Gorgeous trail. Scenes from "the movie" resonated: Kilian and Anton pounding down the steeper-than-you-think downhill as Geoff Roes regrouped behind them.

By the time we approached Cal 2 (mile 70), we needed headlamps. I wasn't disappointed to have gone nearly 16 hours and 70 miles without a headlamp so far. Night running was a theme in my training and I was ready to put it to the test. As a limited aid station, they didn't have any cold water, so I had to cool off with cups of water and ice before moving. Each time we'd get going again it took a few minutes of will power to run. Then the pain would ease and momentum carried me. I finally understood Ken Chlouber's famous quote: "the toughest distance to manage is the 5 inches between your ears". I could run. If I could get my mind to push my body, the pain would subside and I could run. It felt good to finally be pushing through that barrier on my third attempt.

By the time we reached Cal 3 (mile 73), my tolerance for the downhill was disappearing. My left foot was getting more and more sore as was my right knee. I was still moving quite well, but each successive mile was more and more painful. While I was slowly chipping away a few minutes at a time from the 25 minute gap (on 24 hour pace) I'd created hours earlier, I just couldn't seem to catch the number. Arriving at the river (mile 78), I was having my first really bad low of the day and took my only gel of the entire run. I was sick of downhill running and felt a bit overheated. And, after being the hunter all day, I was starting to get passed by some runners I'd seen earlier in the day. I really wanted to get to the river badly. Honestly, I wanted to go uphill.

My sister was waiting for us at the near side of the river and I got a full reload, even eating more solid food and preparing for another long stretch. I also put my iPod back in to zone out for a bit. The river is a big mental boost because you know you are in the home stretch. It is another iconic part of the race and didn't disappoint. The entire rope across the river had a volunteer every few feet and they dropped glow sticks in the water so you could see the rocks and avoid tripping. The water was a bit more than waist deep at the highest point, but I still laid down on the other side to get totally soaked and cool off. The entire process eats up a bit of time, but it was a much needed boost of mental energy and I wish I had stayed in the water 30 seconds longer.

Crossing the river at night demands attention!

My expert pacer, Chuck, with his phone in hand and ready to text

The Finish (River to Auburn)

Once on the other side, we grabbed our drop bag of warm, dry clothes (that we didn't need) and then started up the climb to Green Gate. Before long, I started running the climb, happy to be going uphill for a change. Each successive aid station got harder, but they kept ticking off every hour or so. We'd arrive, cool off, grab some quick snacks and keep moving. It was well after midnight and I was still getting soaked every chance I got. I was running the entire time, though I wasn't generating much power and was plodding along at basically a 15 min pace with stoppage (aid stations, urinating, etc...). However, 24 hour pace assumes a huge decline in performance after the river. I finally began making up time on 24 hour pace -- in huge chunks now. We arrived into Auburn Lakes Trail (mile 85) 20 minutes up on pace. The doctor approached me and said "how are you feeling?". I quickly replied "well, I've run 85 miles. Everything hurts". The entire aid station let out a quick chuckle. Then he continued quizzing me about my urine. "I am going frequently and it is clear", I informed him. I don't think he was overly concerned about me honestly. There was just no one else to check-in on and he was doing his job.

My last aid station with Chuck was Brown's Bar and we were now 25 mins up on 24 hour pace. The pain in my right knee and left foot was becoming unbearable and my motivation to run was waning quickly. Running downhill was near impossible (but I kept trying) and every rock I stepped on sent shooting pain into my left foot and usually resulted in some cursing. I tripped on a few "cow holes" and twisted my left ankle. Things were really unraveling and I was starting to feel a bit negative after being mostly positive the entire day. But, I still managed a good uphill gait and kept from dropping too many spots in the race by passing people back on climbs. And, since we weren't death marching, the miles were passing by reasonably quickly!

Hwy 49 in the dark -- the climactic aid station in "Unbreakable" where we learn Anton had been passed.

I think Chuck sensed (or maybe I said it out loud?) that I was hoping to walk it in with my sister. On our way to reaching Hwy 49, I knew that 24 hours was in the bag. He pleaded with me not to just quit and keep pushing on for a better time. One of my requests of my crew and pace team was to keep pushing me through the entire day. But, I didn't care anymore. My goals was accomplished as long as I kept moving. Little did I know that my sister was being given pacing advice NOT to let me walk it in.

We arrived at Hwy 49 and had a somewhat awkward exchange as my sister took her place as pacer and Chuck took over crew duty. This required a bit of precision that we didn't quite nail, namely forgetting a Garmin! My watch was now in emergency mode, so I only had time of day on it. Fortunately, I had memorized certain facts, like the fact that you could walk every step from Hwy 49 and make 24 hours if you were there by 3:00 AM. It was 2:45 AM -- how convenient?!!! My sister's first pacing job as an inexperienced trail runner and she has to bring me home in the dark at Western States. One thing kept going through my mind... "I'm walking baby!!!".  Wrong.

No sooner did they finish exchanging duties and my sister looked at me and said "ready?", then turned around and start running down the trail. Son of a.... Her first trail running experience and my sister is challenging me?!! I had to keep up, so I started "running" as best I could. Each step was excruciating but I had to do it. I wanted to do it. She ran in front (Chuck had been running in back) and kept pushing me to run. I wish I could say things changed from my pattern with Chuck, but I kept tender-footing the downhill and getting passed. Then we'd pass by the same folks going up. On and on it went. Leaving No Hands Bridge, I stopped fighting. I no longer wanted to walk it in. I wanted the best time I could possibly get. Fortunately, the remaining portion of the race is almost entirely uphill and I ran nearly every dang step of it. I swear if I had a heart rate monitor on I would have been in zone four. We pushed by several runners on the push up to Robie Point where we found Chuck waiting for us.

The first portion of the stretch into Placer High School continues to be uphill and I settled into a power hike. Then it turned downhill and we ran all the way in. Arriving at the track, there was a large crowd going around the track with a couple of runners. They were soaking it all in and walking in like it was a parade. I sped up and passed them so that I could go through the finish line alone. Not much celebration or fan fare, just a quick raise of my hands and hug from Craig Thornley. I finished in 23:30, 78th place after starting the day in 182nd. No doubt I am proud of the patient, smart race that I ran that day. 2013 is known as an extremely hot year, but fewer runners finished this year (253) than in 2013 (277).

Even though it was an amazing race, still relieved to have it done.

Andrew Wellman - 379
Posted by Western States Endurance Run on Sunday, June 28, 2015

We were all exhausted and had an early afternoon flight later that day. Within 10 minutes, we left the track and went to our hotel room to organize our now chaotic gear and get some sleep. The adventure that was six months in the making was now over...

I cannot fully explain -- and maybe have not totally processed -- just how amazing this journey was. The way the lottery system is setup, a non-sponsored, middle-of-the-pack runner can really only expect to run Western States one time in their life. It can take 5-8 years to get through the lottery. That puts a ton of pressure on someone to make it count. I was fortunate that it came in a point in my ultra running career where I was seasoned enough (as was my crew and pace team) to make it count. My margin for sub-24 was always a small one, but I managed to take advantage of it and have an incredible journey. As of this moment, I don't even have a reasonable idea what's next for me. I was all in on this journey. There will be more running and more races, but the specifics are all up in the air. I'll just soak this one in for now.

My reward for a hard day's work

Monday, June 29, 2015

Western States 100 - What Worked

I had an amazing day, and I will eventually write a race report. However, I thought I'd do a separate post on what I thought worked well to keep it to a manageable size! Ultra runners seem to want to force training (aka more miles) onto a situation when things aren't going well. It has never been a secret that I am not a "mileage guy". I did train hard, but what made the difference for me was training smart -- specificity and nutrition. I had a plan to attack this training cycle and it worked great. In my view, ultra running is about preparing your body for the moment, teaching it how to maintain homeostasis for long periods of time, and then problem solving in the moment. Just throwing more miles at the problem won't solve underlying fundamental issues.


I blog about this all the time and I finally got one right! I had a relatively simple (but well thought out) strategy and it paid off big time. My breakfast was small -- three hard boiled eggs and two servings of Ucan -- and then I started eating one hour into the race and stuck with it for at least 80 miles. I also had a packet of Vespa 30 minutes before the start of the race. My plan was to have Skratch as I often as I could without getting cotton mouth or dehydrated. Given my drink rate, this worked out to about every 1.5 hours (or every 3rd water bottle). Then, I had solid food (Lara Bars mostly) every 2 hours and Vespa every 2 or 3 hours. And, I had a few packets of Fuel 100 bites just for a bit of salt and some flavor. All totaled, I believe I ate between 3600 and 4000 Kcals, or 170 per hour. That is quite astounding for a 190+ lb athlete that used to eat nearly 400 Kcals per hour.

I kept what I needed on me for long stretches and utilized my crew meet ups as times to stop in place and eat. No excuses, I wouldn't leave aid without solid food in my belly. I supplemented with aid stations -- mostly a few shots of soda as a pick me up -- through the entire day. There were a few times I got some hunger in between stretches without solid food, but my energy was rock solid all day and my gut was never once upset. I don't have any fat utilization numbers to prove it to you, but I know my LCHF is a big reason why. No stops to empty my GI system, no nausea, no vomit.

The one thing I was careful about was salt. I don't normally use salt caps anymore after reviewing the work of Tim Noakes. Noakes' work suggest salt is not necessary and that it is not related to cramping or hydration.  Instead of worrying about salt intake, I heat trained to help prevent my body from dumping salt. But, the flip-side is that salt isn't bad for us in moderate doses either. Given the amount of water I drank, I went ahead and had some S!Caps every few hours just to be safe. I also got some salt in my Skratch and Fuel 100 bites. One could say I took the moderation approach to salt.

Heat Training and Cooling Off

I am not an expert on California weather, but it appears they had a somewhat unusual weather year. The high temperatures in the city near the race course were only slightly above average for this race (low 90's). However, I ran into a local at the airport -- who paced the 2nd place woman -- on my way home and he explained that the pattern of wind created a condition where the canyons where hotter than normal. That sounds like a reasonable explanation as the DNF rate was high this year and nearly all the carnage was done by Michigan Bluff. My watch read 97 degrees on my skin -- which means it was likely 10-15 degrees hotter than that -- in both of the first two canyons.

Anyway, I knew the race had a reputation for being hot and I prepared for it by heat training, primarily in the sauna -- over 20 sessions in the weeks leading up to the race. I wouldn't say I became a magically better heat runner as a result of this, but I learned to tolerate it and drink a ton of water to stay cool (sometimes two handhelds in under one hour, but only to thirst, never forcing it). After reading lots of opinions, I only did limited heat running as I really didn't want to impact the quality of my runs or put undo stress on my body by running fully clothed in high temperatures. There were a few short sessions (typically less than an hour) at really easy paces as I attempted to prepare mentally and test gear combinations.

The other part of my plan was to have a cooling strategy. I bought some "omni-freeze" gear from Columbia (hat, buff, and arm sleeves) and I stayed wet and hydrated through the entire day. In fact, I was still getting doused in water all the way up to the final aid station. The aid stations at WS100 and first class and I had no problem getting wet and packed with ice. There were a few instances where I had 3-4 volunteers giving me a cold bath at the same time. I generally left every aid station with 3 full handhelds and was usually empty (or close) by the next aid station because of my high drink rate. Even with a high drink rate, there were a few instance through the day where my pee was a bit yellow and far between (4-6 hours).


Other than the two items above, patience has been the biggest issue for me, particularly in a 100. I find myself getting into panic mode 30 miles into the race, forcing my external expectations onto the moment instead of dealing with what was in front me. This lack of patience leads to poor decisions, like leaving aid stations without addressing what I need and forcing a nutrition plan on a the fly. And, it causes me to get negative and discouraged as I try to reconcile my expectations and the current reality.

In this race, I knew quite well what the aid station splits were supposed to be for a 24-hour finish. I also knew I had to run with in myself and avoid the mistakes listed above. When I fell off the Western States projected 24-hour pace, I didn't panic. I had confidence in my conversations with Matt Curtis. I asked questions of the race veterans running near me. All of them said 24-hours was doable despite being slightly "behind". This took great faith from me as I am a "numbers guy" and figured Western States has been doing this long enough that they know. Plus, I had never nailed the second half of a 100 (until now) and figured a bit of cushion would be good. Long story short, there were a few internal arguments over my pace, but I stuck with what I thought sustainable and avoided previous mistakes. I just kept working at what I thought was a sustainable and constant energy level and trusted the rest of my training and planning would work out.