Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Year in Review

2011 is coming to a close and I'm a bit sad to see it go. It has been an unbelievable year for me. Entering the year, I had a minor knee injury that became a major problem. It turned into severely painful tendonitis that had me thinking dark thoughts about my prospects for the year. Fortunately, after some back and forth, I found a doctor that helped me quickly get to the bottom of things and the rest is history. I went from a 3:55 marathoner to dreaming of a 3:10 BQ in one calendar year. It was a combination of hard work and good fortune. Here are a few of the statistics that demonstrate my hard work through the year:
  • More than 2500 miles of running
  • More than 430 hours of running time
  • Nearly 190,000 vertical feet climbed
  • 30 runs of 18 miles or longer
  • 22 runs of 20 miles or longer
  • 4 marathons and 1 ultramarthon (races only)
My body responded to all that stimulus in a big way!  I spent most of the year training for some event and ended up competing in 9 total. Nearly every one of those events was a personal best.  Here are a few of my new personal records:
  • 5K (20:19 unofficially during training, 20:42 officially at Turkey Trot)
  • 10K (40:39 unofficially during training)
  • Half marathon (1:37:30 officially at GT, 1:36:15 unofficially at Vegas RnR)
  • Marathon (3:45 at Colfax, then 3:34 at Steamboat, and finally 3:19 at Vegas RnR)
  • 50 Miles (10:05 at Leadville Silver Rush)
While all of that was great, perhaps the two best things that have come out of this year are my increased fitness level and my new friends. I have transformed myself from a 220 pound sloth just hoping to finish a marathon into a 185 pound fitness junkie. People that I have known for a long time have actually stopped me to ask if I am sick (because of the dramatic change, I hope that's why!). Others just stare in amazement and ask me how I did it. And of course, I have had the good German family suggesting I need to eat more! It is a huge confidence boost to have people outwardly notice my healthy lifestyle. I like to think I am being a role model for my family and friends.

Maybe the greatest gift of all this year was a whole new group of friends -- and getting closer to some old ones -- that inspire me. I have watched all of you grow and enjoyed your company. In fact, I consider myself blessed to have been part of the following: training with strong runners like Jen and Jon, being at the finish line to see Chuck complete a 2:53 marathon, coach and cheer my big sister to a marathon PR, pace my daughter in the Bolder Boulder, and pace Karen to a monster marathon PR. And I almost have my wife convinced to be a runner. Almost. Those memories and friendships have been a huge part of my year. And I thank all of you for inspiring me and being part of my story.

A year in review blog wouldn't be complete without  a list of my best running moments. This list is not in order because there is no way good way to sort them. Every event meant something to me in ways that make them impossible to separate.
For giggles, here are some of the under-the-radar moments during training
And finally a few of my favorite photos from 2011

One of my highs during the Silver Rush 50

The hard work and support of my crew in Leadville.  

Feeling totally overwhelmed after finishing the Leadville Marathon.

Hanging with Tony at the Lead King Loop trail race.

Running with Karen during the Steamboat Marathon.

April and Eileen.  Need I say more?

A family outing at the Bolder Boulder.

The kids preparing to run the Lead King Kids Race 2.5k.

My kids joining me for the last 50 yards of the Leadville Marathon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boxing Day Bear Peak Summit

One of the great pleasures of the last twelve months for me has been the number of new friends that I have made from running. Some of those friends are in different states like South Dakota, Nebraska, and California. And many of those of friends are right here in town, including several that live within a few short miles. One friend (Nico) that I made lives in Boulder and is a trail running fanatic. He messaged me a few weeks ago and asked me to come to Boulder and enjoy some of their great trails. Being a suburb guy, I like to take as many opportunities as I can to get out and see my native state, so naturally I accept.  And I brought another new running friend, Greg, for our first run together.

Our original plan was to do somewhere between 18 and 20 miles and hit both Bear Peak and Green Mountain. Unfortunately, both Greg and I were a little unprepared for the conditions, the difficulty of the trails, and the time commitment (at least in my case). We didn't get far before we figured out that it we would have to cut this short and see Green Mountain another day.

This is the view from the Shanahan Ridge Trail Head. From the trail head we began south so that we could head through Shadow Canyon and then summit Bear Peak from behind. 

The first 2 miles were pretty slow trail running as we approached Shadow Canyon. The running was slow, but we were moving.  However, the wind was whipping at more than 20 MPH with gusts easily above 30 MPH. After a few miles we started climbing. It was more than 2,000 feet of climbing to get to Bear Peak over a 2 mile stretch. Denver and Boulder were hit with a huge snow storm last week, thus there is a ton of snow on the trails. That obviously made things difficult! Below is a picture of Nico as we were less than a half mile to the summit. Not long after I took this photo, we ran out of trail. We had to make our own through fresh snow that was up to waist deep in places. We stopped to look at these tracks and use our expert wilderness experience to determine what type of animal it was. The consensus was that it was probably a mountain lion.

Just before we got to the summit, we had climb on all fours like bears up the remaining section through fresh powder. Then we found a little bit of remaining trail at the top.  Here is a photo of Greg at the summit of Bear Peak looking to the West. I was trying to capture the depth of the snow to get a sense for the conditions.

Nico took these photos of the two of us. Again, you can see how deep and fresh the snow was.



Here we are overlooking the Boulder area from the peak.  

This is a photo looking West toward the mountains. I believe that is Long's Peak off in the distance.

Another photo looking West (and perhaps a bit South) from the summit.

The actual summit of the peak was at the top of a small rock field. We didn't climb the rocks, so I guess we didn't technically summit. But there is one person (in the photo) that did.

Another summit photo, this one looking Southeast toward my neck of the woods (Castle Rock).

Before we left the summit, Nico asked us if we wanted to go the short way (a very steep 3 miles) or the long way (5 miles), which was supposed to be a "mellower" grade and more runnable. We decided to go the long way since we were already cutting out Green Mountain. The long way turned out to be long indeed. But I am not sure I would have wanted to see the "steeper" direction! The first mile down off the summit was pretty steep and snowy. Getting down was a combination of trail running and skiing. You could literally angle yourself and just slide down the mountain. It was actually kind of fun and easier than it sounds because you could rely on the snow to break your fall and brace any impact. The downside was that it was difficult to find a real trail and see any obstacles that might exist.

From the summit we headed down the Bear Peak West Ridge and then returned down to the car via Bear Canyon. At one point, Greg remarked that he wasn't having much fun. His quads were a little burned up from the climb and then the steep descent. Personally I really enjoyed the descent. Once we made our way onto Bear Canyon Trail, the grade subsided and the running picked up. Greg got a little more peppy at that point.

Here is a photo of a little bridge we crossed along Bear Canyon Creek.

And one last photo that Nico took of Greg and I running through Bear Canyon.


In the end we had a ton of fun, but it was extremely challenging. I was mostly comfortable with the exception of the peak where the wind was extremely intense. My feet got a little wet after nearly 4 hours. (But the screw shoes did a great job!) I should have been prepared with more liquids as well. While this type of activity is not running in the sense that a marathoner would train, it was very intense exercise. The combination of climbing, changing from hiking to running, and limited nutrition were all good experience for Greg and I and our LT100 training.  And it is good cross training for the legs! Perhaps most importantly, where else do you get so see such beauty? We are so fortunate to live in this wonderful state. I sometimes feel like I take it for granted.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 12/19 – 12/25

If you have followed my training lately you know two things: 1) I am in between training cycles for the first time in a while and 2) the Denver metro area is getting TONS of snow. Thus it is hard to describe my training lately. It's been a bit of an ad-hoc situation. I am trying to mix in some gradually longer runs in an effort to keep my fitness and endurance. However, judging the effective pace of each run is difficult due to the poor road conditions outside. All in all, I'm happy with the past few weeks. Though I have discovered the joy of easier paces again!

This week I finally crossed the 2500 mile mark. It is a pretty arbitrary number in the grand scheme of things. But the implications of that number are huge. First of all, it shows that I have put in an incredible training year with a base large enough to make a number of different goals possible. It is easily double my previous "PR". And secondly, it is a sign that my body (combined with my training approach) can handle significant miles without undue risk of nagging injury. Along the way I have done back-to-back long runs, 40 to 80 mile weeks, and 4 to 8 workouts a week. And none of it has bothered me in any significant fashion. As I look ahead at the schedule for 2012, this peace of mind is invaluable.

The final week of 2011 will be another ad hoc plan, but I am going to get some trail work with a DailyMile group in Boulder. I am really looking forward to that. Hopefully I will put the final touches on some more plans for 2012 as well. The few things to do in that regard are to finish LT100 accommodations and to finalize other training events I want to enter. I think I have come up with a training plan for the Colorado Marathon suits me. The mileage is based around an ultra marathon as the event. There will be a huge emphasis on weekend long running. During the week I am going to mix in some training specific runs for a marathon (tempo work, interval work, etc...). I probably won't set a goal for Colorado until the event is closer, but certainly another shot at 3:15 (and a PR) is in the back of my mind.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday 7 Easy pace
Wednesday11 Progressive ending at GA pace
Thursday 6GA pace
Friday7 GA pace
Saturday 15 GA pace
Sunday 4 Easy pace
Total 50 About 3900 vertical feet gained

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 12/12 – 12/18

Not much new to add this week. This was just a filler week as I recover from my marathon and ramp up for 2012. Marathon recovery seems complete (or nearly so) as quicker paces feel comfortable. With Christmas coming up, I have acquired a bunch of new running gear for 2012.  And, as usual this time of year, I am spending a ton of time reflecting on this great season and looking forward to next!

I have two more races to add to my schedule. One will be the San Juan Solstice 50 miler on June 23rd.  Registration does not open until mid January and it fills quickly. The course is extremely difficult. So much so, they say you can double your time and comfortably predict a LT100 mile outcome (most 50 milers they recommend 2.5x your time). I need to fine something in July, but I am waiting on family vacation plans to commit. I may just end up doing the Leadville Silver Rush as a nice long training run. That is a convenient one because it doesn't fill and I have lots of time to think it over. It has the obvious benefit of being in Leadville for race simulation type considerations.

I also want to get out and hit some cool trails this summer to both train and scout for Leadville.  My wife and I usually exchange "trips" where we each get to go somewhere with our friends for 3 - 5 days. This year I am thinking of using my trip to pack up a tent and go hit the trails for 4 or 5 days. A good portion of that time will be spent in Leadville to scout out parts of the course.  I definitely want to see Hope Pass at least once before race day.

Day Miles Notes
Monday 5 Easy pace
Tuesday 10 GA pace
Thursday 8GA pace
Friday5 Recovery pace
Saturday 13 GA pace (faster side)
Sunday 6 Easy pace
Total 47 About 3600 vertical feet gained

Monday, December 12, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 12/05 – 12/11

One week since the big marathon race attempt has come and gone. Racing a marathon is hard and I don't like the recovery time.  I am going as slow as I can, trying not to injure myself. But the patience required is more than I had expected. When I ran my ultra, it didn't hurt this much. I was completely wiped out of energy for about two weeks (though some of that may have been recovering from the virus I caught right before the race), but I never hurt like this. My previous marathon PR was the final run in a 70 mile week. And I was back to running big miles the next week, culminating in a 34 mile run just six days after a marathon PR (though clearly not a race effort).

My schedule for 2012 is starting to come together. I signed up for the Colorado Marathon in May. Why? Is it so I can have another crack at this marathon thing and erase the disappointment of Vegas? Is it because I have a FOMO (fear of missing out) and want to go hang with a bunch of friends in Fort Collins? Maybe it is because there just isn't a lot of trail running to be had before May?  I don't know the answer, but I'm in. The bigger question is: how will I train? I followed the Pfitz 18/55 plan pretty diligently for Vegas. While I feel that plan had me prepared, I am ultimately training for 100 miles this year. Nothing is set in stone, but I think I am going to follow a plan for a 50 mile ultra and mix in some work for lactate threshold paces and marathon paces. The primary difference between the Pfitz 18/70 plan and the plan I will use is that Pfitz has more days per week (6 on average) and the occasional double recovery. In the end, my plan will actually have fewer total miles than the Pfitz 18/70 plan. But when I run, it will usually be for big(ger) miles. This means lots of slow running on the weekends to work on glycogen-to-fat burning ratios and endurance. That plan should leave me with a solid base to spring board toward the final 14 weeks of training for LT100.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday Rest
Wednesday5 GA pace
Thursday 4Recovery pace
Friday 3 Recovery pace
Saturday 7 GA pace
Sunday 7 GA pace
Total 26 About 2000 vertical feet gained

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 11/28 – 12/4

I ran my goal marathon this week.  You can read a detailed version of my race report, but let's just say that I executed my race plan poorly and it cost me.  I still had a good result, but not what I hoped.  The big question is what's next?  Obviously my entire season is going to be built around LT100, but it doesn't mean I cannot have a little fun first.  I have outlined a rough training strategy that I hope to follow.  Included in the plan are some potential races.  Unfortunately, time will not allow me to do them all, so I have to pick a few.  After last weekend's blown attempt at 3:15, I am feeling a little anxious to try again.  The most important thing is to pick sensible goals that are helping me toward my 100 mile adventure.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday 6 Recovery pace
Wednesday7 Dress Rehersal: 2 x 7:12
Thursday Rest
Friday 4 Recovery pace
Saturday 4 Recovery pace
Sunday 26 Vegas RnR 7:33 pace
Total 48 About 2000 vertical feet gained

Monday, December 5, 2011

Las Vegas RnR Marathon Race Report

Yesterday was my first real attempt to race a marathon and my last goal race of 2011. It is bitter sweet because I have come a long way (an hour faster than my first marathon attempt in 2009), but I missed my goal of 3:15. It may seem like I am sulking to those that have talked to me. And perhaps I am a little. But I am actually quite happy with my time. While I would not pretend that it cost me my goal, I have to be honest in saying that it was a terrible event (more on that later). My sister deserves thanks for shuttling me around and taking care of my needs while she waited for the half marathon to begin.

Before getting into the race review, here are a few things to keep in mind as you read:
  1. Finishing a race poorly sucks.  I already knew this, but I was reminded in a big way. Not only is it demotivating, but it shapes your view of the whole experience.
  2. Conserver your glycogen. It is the most likely factor to determine your race fate. I ran above lactate threshold pace for too long, too early and it cost me.
  3. Don't run angry. I let the events that were unfolding get to me and I lost focus of what I was trying to accomplish.  
Here is how the race unfolded:

Miles 1 - 6.5
Being a night race, I was really unsure about how to approach race day nutrition. I tried to eat carbs slowly and consistently throughout the day and stay hydrated. We arrived in Las Vegas about 3 hours before the race. After getting my bib and changing my corral, we pretty much sat around and waited for the race to start. About 45 minutes before the race I began to feel hungry and had a horrible feeling I had not eaten enough to top off my glycogen. I returned to the race festivity area and grabbed a banana to eat. And I was also nursing some electrolytes, but tried not to drink too much to avoid having to use the restroom in the early miles of the race. The race day weather was a perfect 50 degrees with only a slight wind. Since it is late fall, it was almost cold, particularly because it was cooling down as the race unfolded.

It was apparent that the RnR people did not care about corrals. People were moving freely to wherever they wanted to be. The 3:15 pacer didn't show up until about 2 minutes to go. Immediately after the race started, we headed west across the highway to an industrial part of Las Vegas. My stomach was in distress within the first few miles. I am fairly certain it was the contents of my stomach. The distress did not impact my performance, but it was uncomfortable. I ran this way most of the first half. At about mile six, I stopped and urinated to alleviate some of the pressure. I continued to feel uneasy about my energy levels, so I took my first gel shot before completing seven miles.

At this point, I was hanging with the 3:15 pacer pretty well. I found his splits to be a little erratic even though we were on point overall.

6.5 - 13.1
Miles 6 through 10 were more of the same -- stomach distress and hanging with the pacer. Just passed mile eight they had huge tables of Roctane and I grabbed a handful. Despite my stomach distress, I managed to empty my handheld (20 oz) and refill. Finally, at about mile 9, my stomach started feeling better. The pacer pulled over to the side of the road for water and a small pack of runners kept going. The course was heading downhill and I felt good. I knew I was going too fast, but found it hard to stop. This pattern of ignoring what I knew was wrong continued to the half way point where I came in with a 1:36:15 split -- a minute plus half PR. I wasn't too worried about the pace because it was only a minute faster than anticipated and I wanted a small cushion for a fade. Just before the halfway point I took my second Roctane of the night.

This concluded our loopy tour through West Las Vegas. Now we got to run to the strip for the real excitement.

13.1 - 20
This section did me in. The runners came under the Mandalay Bay hotel and through a huge crowd -- awesome. And then we merged with the half marathon runners. The half marathon runners started an hour and a half after the full marathon runners so they could run the second half of the race along the strip at night. However, they had timed it such that half marathoners were about 10 corrals released by the time I got to the merge. Having just run a 1:36 half, I got merged with runners going at less than a 9 minute pace. I was pissed and I started running angry. The half marathoners were disrespectful of their lanes on the course and water stations were a free for all. I just kept running fast, attempting to break out of the congestion of 33,200 half marathoners.

By mile 16 my quads were burning and I knew I was burning up glycogen too quickly. But the damage had been done. I had few options other than to slow a bit and hope for the best. It was made more difficult because the lanes they set up for half and full marathoners maintained through corners. This meant that sometimes you ran the turn wide and sometimes narrow, depending on the direction the turn. It was impossible to run true tangents without changing lanes. Bikers were riding along the cones between the lanes urging half marathoners to stay in their lane. Marathoners were screaming and elbowing half marathoners. It was total chaos. I took another Roctane about mile 19. The water station I stopped at was out of Cytomax, so I got water.

I finished this section already fading. I slowed down during mile 19 (7:24 compared to sub-7:20 average pace to this point). I managed two more decent miles for miles 21 and 22 (7:11 and 7:40).

22 - 26
By mile 22 I was in damage control mode. I knew that 3:15 was a long shot, but I still had several minutes of cushion. Each mile was slower than the last. I was beginning to cramp and stopped briefly in the 23rd mile to massage my right hamstring. Fortunately, I found the proper angle and determined it hurt less to run than continue standing. I was fighting mentally to just keep running even though every muscle in my body wanted to stop. My quads hurt and both feet had multiple hotspots -- worse than anything my feet had ever felt. I took one last hailmary Roctane at mile 25. As Jon had warned, I had burned up all my glycogen and was running on pure fumes at this point. Altitude (oxygen) was not the limiting factor, energy was and I had spent it all.  Here I was running down Las Vegas Boulevard under the lights and I'll could think was, "Please Lord let this end soon".

And then the final kick to the head came at 25.5 miles on the Garmin (little more than 25 miles into the race) when the 3:15 pacer finally passed me. I tried to keep up with him for about .15 miles and just couldn't do it. I doubt he finished in 3:15 considering he passed me so late. When I made the final turn into the festivities area, I ran as fast as could. Final time 3:19:24. A 15 minute PR. I officially finished 177th out of 3787 overall, 163 out of 2398 in men, and 32 out of 481 in my age group.

Post race
After the race, I stumbled toward gear check as I drank about 40 ounces of fluid and ate energy bars, pretzels, and a bagel. I was dehydrated and having GI distress. Once I got my gear bag and put on dry clothes I began to walk back to find my sister at our designated meeting area. My hands were shaking terribly while I attempted to use my phone to text Jon and call my family. I was very, very cold. About 60 minutes after the race I had recovered and felt much better. We made the drive back to St. George and got home around midnight.

Here is a little clip from Top Gun sums up how I went about my race strategy -- so close yet so far:

A bit about the course and RnR experience
This was the second largest event I have done -- second only to the Bolder Boulder. It was a total disaster in my opinion. In particular, the merge between the half and full marathon was poorly thought out and even more poorly executed. The corrals were not enforced and runners of all different ability were all over the second half of the course. Water stations were littered in cups and excess water. And it was a RnR event, which meant poor course design, flyovers across highways, many u-turns around random cones in lonely streets. Worse yet, less than half of the course was on the strip and that was supposed to be the main attraction. The one upside was that the crowd support was pretty darn good, especially in the second half of the race.  Given these challenges, I think 3:15 was a reasonable goal had I been smart and followed my pacer until the last few miles. There was little chance of a better time. After poor experiences at Las Vegas and Denver, I don't think I will do another RnR event as a goal race.

** UPDATE ** The Las Vegas RnR Facebook page is getting crushed.  They have acknowledged the following issues:
  • Crowding at the start line and finish line (some people could not get into their corrals)
  • Mandalay Bay post race (the hotel was overwhelmed with people at gear check)
  • The merge of the marathon and half (total disaster, enough said)
  • Difficulty distributing participant amenities (not enough gear bags, shirts, medals, or post-race food)
  • Aid stations along the course (ran out of water and Cytomax)
There are also reports of runners being given non-potable water and getting sick afterwards.

Here is an image that captures what the "merge" looked like.  The red arrow points to about the spot where marathoners were turning the corner and being met with a wall of half marathoners.