A few years back, when I was cutting my teeth in ultra running, I came across the blog of John Lacroix (aka Sherpa John or SJ). Of all the blogs I came across, his appealed to me because he is not an elite. He typically addresses ultra running from the point of view of a Regular Joe or Weekend Warrior. And, his desire is to keep the tradition and culture of ultra running alive and well. We can disagree on exactly how much tradition we should keep, but we must agree that ultra running is growing rapidly, too rapidly, and the future of the sport is challenged because it is not easy to add supply to meet the demand. But, I digress....
When I met SJ, he had recently moved to the Boulder area and wanted to create a community of ultra runners out here. New to ultra running, and without many friends running ultras, I jumped at the chance to participate in a few of his Fat Ass events, running the inaugural version of them. I even joined him and Jeremy Ebel on their first trip to the Grand Canyon. Obviously, through our various adventures together, we've become friends. As a New Englander, he is often very opinionated and can be controversial, but I can say that he truly cares about the ultra running community at large and those in Denver Front Range. He spends tons of hours of his own time organizing Fat Ass events and helping to build community. It was a natural extension for him to start his own race series this summer. I thought I was done with racing after The Bear 100 in September, but he reached out and asked me if I'd come run his inaugural Indian Creek Fifties event. The race is close to my home and I often train on those trails, so I decided it would be a fun way to end the season. Enough background, onto the report...
After Bear, I haven't trained much at all. I was surprised at how quickly I recovered from the race itself, but I am pretty worn out from a big summer of racing and somewhat unmotivated these days. I did enough in October, but nothing close to my normal training. My goal all along was just to show up and have a good time. And, the night before was Halloween and both my kids were up late. As a result, I got about 3 hours of sleep the night before and just sort of slumbered to the start line only half ready to race. We stood in the dark for a few minutes and listened to SJ's announcements, and then he said "go" and off we went.
Rampart 1 - 9.25I didn't recognize anyone in my immediate surroundings, so I just cruised along by myself the first few miles. The first few miles were pitch black, and I was sort of happy about that because I need more experience on trails in the dark. (After this race, I am starting to think I need a better headlamp too.) Between feeling sluggish from little sleep, being dark, and being overdressed, I felt super slow. A few miles in I heard my name and recognized "Coach Greg", my son's youth running coach. We chatted and hiked for a few minutes together. It was to be his first 50 miler and I think he was hoping I was doing the 50 mile event as well. He was hiking much better than me and soon disappeared into the dark. I once again ran alone, but found myself at the front of a long conga line heading reasonably technical trail in the dark. I felt like I was holding everyone up, but only a few people made a push to pass me. Finally, at six miles, I pulled over to use the restroom and the conga line passed me by.
The remaining miles into the aid station were mostly downhill and my feet were really bugging me. I wore my Hoka Mafate and they typically loosen up on me in the first few miles, causing my feet to slide around quite a bit. Plus, I used KT tape to tape my big toes and the friction rubbing against my second toes was causing some blistering. At aid, I refilled on water and stopped to tighten my shoes. My feet felt much better the rest of the day, though I did end up with a few small blisters. As for nutrition, I went with a pretty typical plan: no breakfast and Ucan as my only fuel for the first half of the race.
Reservation (start area) - 14.25Leaving aid, I put on my iPod and did my best to keep in good spirits. I was heading mostly uphill again and having trouble keeping up with the runners around me, getting passed a couple of times. I had run all this trail in June with Tony and Chuck, but in the reverse direction. It was much harder in this direction! Nonetheless, I was gradually starting to get into the race and increasing the effort, particularly in my hiking. I've done so many mountain events this summer that I've really become a good hiker, often hiking as fast as others who are running around me. And, I have developed a good run/hike mix that keeps the moderate climbs in the low teens for pace. Before long, I reached the top of the climb and start descending down into the start area for the end of loop one. One thing that has bugged me of late is how much I've been tripping, so I really focused on my running stride downhill and made a comfortable descent without any trips!
At aid station, I dropped all my cold weather and dark gear. And, I dropped my extra water bottle because I had consumed all of my Ucan. I topped off my water and grabbed a couple Honey Stinger Energy chews. The sugar was an instant pick me up and I left the aid station in good spirits, knowing the course was net downhill for the next five or so miles.
Stevens Gulch - 19.85The first couple of miles are downhill, but technical in spots. I once again focused on my stride and just put it into "cruiser" mode. I passed a couple of runners before another runner whom I'd never met, Eric, came up behind me and started chatting. We chatted a bit and, as a veteran of these trails, I explained to him what we would see the next few miles. Some of this section is really steep downhill and didn't try to play hero, just continuing on in my cruiser mode. Finally, we joined the Colorado Trail and I put in a couple of respectable miles. Eric had long left me, but I was catching up with some other runners.
As I approached aid, a volunteer grabbed my water bottle to fill it and I stopped to chat with Robbie (volunteering at aid). This was where I decided to fully switch to sugar. From the end of loop one, I had been nursing a few Honey Stinger Bites and a bottle of Skratch Labs. But, I was also mixing in some solid food in the form of Hammer Bars. Before leaving, I grabbed more chews and mixed one more bottle of Skratch.
Rampart 2 - 23.45I ran this next section of trails back in the summer of 2012, and I remembered the uphill coming in the next few miles. I also remembered how hot this section can get. It didn't disappoint in either area. But, this is when my run/hike mix really started to pay dividends as I slowly began to catch and pass runners. The sugar was kicking in and my grade adjusted pace (according to Strava) was in the low 10's. With each passing mile I was feeling stronger. And, each time I passed a runner, I became more motivated. I soon caught Eric again and I slowed to hang and chat with him a bit. He gave me a bit of his ultra background (second 50-miler) and future plans (Big Horn in 2015). After sharing a few war stories of my own, I gently pulled away and he said goodbye and good luck. There were a few downhill sections before aid and I was clipping along nicely. While I don't typically enjoy my Hokas, they were feeling really nice on these downhill dirt road sections as I cruised along.
I continued to feel really strong as I pulled into aid station, and really motivated. I grabbed a couple of Honey Stinger gels and some water before heading out. I knew the remaining miles were mostly uphill, but I didn't realize what a grind it was going to be.
Reservation/Finish - 32.8 milesThe remaining part of the course was the same as the first 9 miles from the morning, so I was somewhat familiar with what was to come. (Though, I was admittedly half awake and courses always look different in reverse.) While the course is mostly up hill, the first three miles after aid are net downhill and I start increasing the pace and effort, catching a few more runners. Much of the course since the last aid station was double track dirt road and quite easy to make up time, but we finally exited the dirt road and rejoined trail. I could see two runners up ahead of me and I decided to slow down a bit and save some energy for the remaining miles. I am glad I did because the climb was longer than I remembered from the morning and I would eventually run out of water. Once going uphill, I shifted to a hard hike. Both runners that were immediately ahead of me were running and walking, but I managed to keep them in my sight without any meaningful running. I slowly gained on them and finally passed when I sensed I was feeling stronger than they were. I must have repeated this at least six times in the four mile climb. Each time I passed a runner, I was sure to run the next few minutes to make sure they didn't try to pass me back.
By mile 29, I was sure we'd start heading downhill soon, but it just didn't come soon enough. I became more and more frustrated with the continuous climbing. I had been pushing hard -- close to half marathon effort -- for the past 10 miles and it was catching up with me. (I wish I had worn my heart rate monitor because I am certain I was in Zone 4 for much of the climbing.) Things got a little hairy when I ran out of water, finishing my last gulp to chase a gel, hoping for one last burst to finish and fighting off some feelings of an ensuing bonk. Mercifully, we got to the top of the and a course marshal told me to turn left with "1.5 miles downhill to the finish".
Not long after the turn, I came across one last runner that was close enough to pass. He stopped to stretch out a cramping hamstring. As I was running by, I asked how if he was okay. When he looked up, I recognized Coach Greg. He explained that he was struggling and unsure if he'd continue to finish the 50 miler. I was done racing and decided to run and chat the remaining mile plus with him. He congratulated me on a well run race and we both complained that the course was harder than we expected. (I always complain that the course is harder than expected!) With the finish line in sight, I picked up the pace for the final 100 yards, crossing the finish line and hugging SJ. Coach Greg came in right behind me and decided to call it good at 50k, a decision that I think was wise.
All in all, I had a decent race. I was happy that I ran strong the final miles, continuing a theme that worked for me all summer (other than Bear 100). Much of that, I believe, is due to my nutrition plan. I keep my food minimal (100-200 Kcals per hour) and mostly of the fat-burning variety early in races (Ucan, real food, plain water), then switch to sugar products in the second half to get a kick to finish strong. This strategy worked well in all my races except the 100, the one distance that has eluded me. The one downside to this strategy is that I can tell each time that I switch to sugar, my hydration gets out of whack. The sugar leaves me with cotton mouth and thirsty. If I do it for too long, particularly in hot weather, I begin to feel dehydrated. I need to continue to adapt and explore for the 100 mile distance. I think this likely means mixing in some fat products (nuts, oils and butters) and exhibiting more patience in the first half.
I am really happy for Sherpa John. The race went off really well for a first time event. A few of his core principles are not to cater to elites and to encourage runners to help one another; I think he accomplished both. He had quite a few runners -- friends of his -- out there volunteering and supporting him, a testament to the community he has made since arriving in Boulder a few years ago. I am not sure exactly what 2015 has in store for me, but I have a feeling I will run at least one of his events.