Sunday, May 27, 2012

Weekly Training Wrap - 5/21 - 5/27

Wow, I don't really know what to say about this week. I was exhausted all week. And I have been eating like I am 15 again -- all day long without any weight gain. Between recovering from the R2R2R adventure and hosting my wife's late night friends, it was a tough week to find a rhythm. I slept in a lot, forsaking most of my x-training for extra rest. Even with all that, I still managed a solid 8.25 hours of training thanks to a pretty big weekend of running. Saturday and Sunday combined for 5.5 hours of training and more than 7500 vertical feet.  My two week total for vertical is almost 24K.

The first half of this next week ends a pretty interesting month for me.  Let's see if I can finish strong!

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday Rest Light x-training
Wednesday8 GA Run
Thursday10GA Run
Saturday 11 2x Incline plus Barr Trail
Sunday 13 Fear the Deer Course
Total 42 About 8800 vertical feet

Monday, May 21, 2012

Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim Report

The Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim has been on my bucket list since last August when I visited it with my family. This trip challenged everything I know about ultrarunning and nutrition. One of my companions for the trip, Sherpa John Lacroix, called it a graduate degree in ultrarunning. Among the many challenges were:
  1. No support - While there are half a dozen places to get water in the canyon, we had to carry our own electrolytes in individual baggies. And, despite frequent locations to get water, they could still be 2 - 3 hours apart. Everything else we had to carry: food, gear, supplies, etc... As a result, we ran the entire day with a pack weighing in excess of 10 pounds.
  2. 100 degree heat - this was the hottest event that I have ever participated in. The challenge of remaining hydrated was difficult and required great discipline. It was alarming how many unprepared people we encountered.
  3. Vertical gain - this course was at least double the most vertical gain I have done in one day. And, there was very little of the course that was flat or rolling. Only the seven mile section from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood campground qualified. The rest of the time the course is either up or down. 
I am very happy that I "passed" the test, but there were some very tough moments that really shook me.

About the Route

The first thing to know about running the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim is that there are a variety of ways to do it. The variation comes primarily from two decisions: 1) which rim you start at and 2) which trail to use at the South Rim (the North Rim has only one).  The most traditional route, and the route used to determine the fastest known time, starts at the South Rim and uses the South Kaibab trail to get to and from the bottom of the canyon. This R2R2R route is roughly 41.2 miles.

The longer option uses Bright Angel Trail to get to and from the South Rim and totals 47.6 miles. The primary advantages of this trail is the addition of one more water stop (Indian Garden) and no mules on the trail. Again, most people tackle this route starting from the South Rim. The reason that people prefer to start from the South Rim is that the climb to the North Rim is harder and longer. From the bottom of the canyon, it is a 14 miles and 6000 feet of ascent to the North Rim. Over half of vertical gain comes in the last 5 miles where the grade steepens (12.5%). Starting at the South Rim ensures that you hit this climb in the middle of your day and not the end.

We had long ago decided to start from the North Rim because that was the best place to camp. The decision that would later haunt us was to lengthen the route to 50 miles. In order to lengthen the route, we decided to ascend to the South Rim using the South Kaibab Trail, run along the Rim Trail at the top (adds 5 miles), and then descend back to the canyon floor using the Bright Angel Trail. The route could  be as short as 41 miles and we lengthened it to more than 50. In the moment, this seemed like a good idea. Looking back it added too much time. Our average speed was little more than 3 miles an hour, meaning this distance took us roughly three more hours. They estimate that Rim2Rim2Rim should take 13 - 15 hours for a "mid-pack" runner.  It took us a bit more than 16 with the additional three hours worth of length. I would encourage first time Rim2Rim2Rim runners to try the 41 mile option first!

To Roaring Springs

We woke at 4 am with the intention of being at the trailhead at 5 am. A third member of our group, Jeremy, decided to join us at the last minute and arrived the night before while John and I slept. As we were putting our packs together for the day, we began exchanging ideas for gear and supplies. During our exchange, we decided there was enough light and decided to leave our headlamps behind. Sherpa John made ham, egg, and cheese muffins for breakfast. I only had half the sandwich and added some Perpetuem and granola to my pre-run meal. At 5:15 am we started running to the trailhead which was almost a mile away (adding more distance). Arriving at the trailhead, I was a little alarmed to see the entire parking lot was already full. We were obviously among the late starting crowd.

Descending the trail was an absolute blast. The reality of that I was going to finally do this was sinking in. My body felt rested and good. The weather was perfect and the optimism was high. As we descended, we played a game of leap-frog with the hundreds of other people going into the canyon. We would run past them and then stop to snap some photos where they would overtake us. When we started running again, we would once again overtake them. This went on almost all the way to the bottom. (Most of the people we passed were either doing a R2R only or were just hiking a few miles down to take photos.)

A good photo of me descending the North Kaibab trail.

This is a great view down on the trail that we were descending. The layer of rock we were running on here was red and got our feet, shoes, and socks very dirty. The color of the trail would change all day based on what layer of rock we were running on.

Smile Sherpa! This photo is indicative of some of the cool trail you run through. Running down the North Rim, there are many places where the trail is literally carved into the rock.

Another great photo of the trail we are about to descend on. You can see the first bridge we would cross (the first of many for the day).

This photo shows one of my favorite sections along the North Rim. This trail was once again carved into the rock and we were running in sort of a channel.

About half way to Roaring Springs we came across this big rock tower. The tower had a short trail that led up to it. Sherpa decided to scramble to the top for a photo

I ran down a bit and took this photo of him raising his arms. He later admitted that he was a little frightened up there.

Here is another photo of the trail as we descended. Somehow the cliff off the left side didn't bother me at all (fear of heights). It was a real challenge for me on the way back.

One of the many cool photos you can take as you descend into the canyon. It was cool to visualize because your surroundings were constantly changing: rock colors, light, height of the canyon above you, etc...

As we approached the first check point (Roaring Springs) there was a trail sign that had us choose between Roaring Fork or Cottonwood. I confused Roaring Fork with Roaring Springs and we went the wrong direction. We were not lost for long, but added roughly a mile to our journey. Sherpa John had a good map and brought it with us. We soon realized our mistake and headed back (uphill) toward Cottonwood. After just a few minutes we arrived at Roaring Springs. I refilled my GoLite pack bladder and my handhelds.  (I brought a pack with a 70 ounce bladder and pockets for two handheld watter bottles).

To Phantom Ranch

Leaving Roaring Springs on our way to Phantom Ranch was awesome. We finally got a chance to do some consistent running on the flatter trail and we remained in the morning shadows. This stretch was the most consistent running we did all day. As we were moving along, someone coming the other way shouted "Sherpa" and we stopped to talk with a group of runners from Arizona. The group leader was a friend of SJ's and they were attempting the R2R2R today as well (from the South Rim). The guy said to SJ later that we picked the "killer" route. I stayed on top of my nutrition and hydration along this route and just enjoyed the scenery. SJ and I agreed after the fact that this was the funnest running section on the whole route.

As we approached Phantom Ranch, the crowd of runners and hikers started thinning and the weather started to get hot. We took a long break here to refill our packs, apply sunscreen for the first time, and eat. It had been about 4 hours since we started and things were starting to get real now.

Here is a cool picture of the bridge over the Colorado River. We would eventually take this bridge across and onto the South Kaibab trail. But first, we went down the river to check it out. Our plan was to get in the river on the way back, but we didn't have enough time.

Sherpa John and I on the bridge. I was trying to act cool -- it didn't work so well.

To South Rim (via South Kaibab)

The trails to the South Rim is completely exposed with little shade and zero vegetation. We intentionally took the South Kaibab trail up thinking that we would rather do the "steeper, shorter" climb so we could run the "less steep, longer" descent back down. There was a part of me that regretted that decision because we were going dead vertical (15% grade) right off the river. And it was pretty much non-stop for 6 miles and 4800 feet. The switch backs were right above our heads and they sometimes looked like the scaffolding from the old video game "Donkey Kong". We joked that we expected barrels to come rolling at us at any time.

Along this climb Jeremy started talking with a guy we called "North Face" because of his pack. He kept up with us for a while. SJ started telling us his "clown story". He is full of stories. The story went on and on about a boy and Bozo the clown. I won't ruin it for anyone that hasn't heard it -- just know that it is a drawn out story. It turns out that SJ was just keeping us distracted from the long climb. The story ends with a LOUD expletive and Jeremy and I started laughing. When we reached the top, "North Face" caught up to us and asked how the clown story turned out. All he had heard was SJ shout the punchline expletive -- from about a mile down the canyon! Now we really laughed.

Having been to both rims of the canyon, I will say that the South Rim has the more spectacular views. This photo is about half way up the South Kaibab trail.

Same photo, only with me in it!

A look down the "Donkey Kong" switch backs.

Donkey Kong -- we promise we won't steal your girl!

Sherpa John demonstrating the warning sign behind him. In case you weren't sure, be careful of the heat. You may get dizzy and could fall into the canyon.

This photo was taken by Jeremy. You can see we were working hard. Look at those sexy calves!

Another photo by Jeremy as we climbed the trail.

I think this photo was taken just after the "clown story".

One our way to the top we finally caught up with the mule chain and a bunch of tourists. I was getting frustrated with the climb and just hit my own gear, dropping SJ and Jeremy for a bit. As I waited at the top, I sat in the shade and nutritioned myself. My hydration plan consisted of about 30 ounces of water per hour (maybe even more) and two S!Caps.

To Bright Angel Trailhead

At the top, we refilled our water again. I ate a Bonk Breaker bar and reapplied sun screen.  Unfortunately, that was my last of three Bonk Breaker bars that I had packed. I wasn't the only one looking for lunch: SJ was getting hungry and we needed to find hot water so he could make his instant mashed potatoes with bacon bits. (Those bacon bits saved my bacon later.) We began running along the rim trail toward the Canyon Village and Visitor Center. We had not expected the trail to be 100% paved and it sucked a little. There was no hot water to be found anywhere. SJ had to make his mashed potatoes with cold water. In the meantime, Jeremy located vending machines at the visitor center and I had a little cash, so we all bought drinks. Jeremy also bought some salty chips that he shared.

We once again started running along the rim trail, this time toward the Bright Angel Trailhead. We were energized but I was beginning to worry that we might not get back before dark. We had spent a significant amount of time at the South Rim. I used Jeremy's last little bit of phone battery to leave a message telling my wife that we were at the South Rim and taking longer than expected. That was 1 pm and she would not get word that we were out of the canyon until almost 10 pm. Just before getting on the Bright Angel trail, we used the restroom and topped off our water supplies. (Note that there are no pictures from here because we started busting our butts to make it out of the canyon.)

To Indian Garden

The descent down Bright Angel was tough. We were running and making good time, but the trail is made of man-made stairs using wood.  The spacing of the wood made it difficult to find a good steady stride. I was really surprised at how technical the trail was all day long. And it was often difficult to see rocks that were hidden/camouflaged by the sand and dirt of the same color. I nearly tripped several times and beat up my big toes. As we hammered down, we saw dozens of runners finishing their Rim2Rim journey. I am pretty sure SJ congratulated everyone of them. Many looked rough, but they had made it.

Temps were now approaching 100 degrees and I was becoming insanely hot. The thermometer at Indian Springs read 105 degrees as we sat in the oasis cooling off. I began dumping water on my head to keep cool. The positive my hydration plan, I was doing a phenomenal job of drinking and taking S!Caps. A conservative estimate is that I consumed 500 ounces of fluid over the course of the day (that is 4 gallons of fluid). About half of that was water and the other half was electrolytes beverages (mostly for calories). The primary beverage was Clip 2, but I also mixed in some Accelerade (for more calories and some protein) and some GU Roctane beverage (for calories and good taste). I am really proud of how I kept up with this and feel it allowed me to complete this journey.

To Phantom Ranch 2

From Indian Garden there is another 5 miles to Phantom Ranch. Running down the trail we came across a woman that was looking for a Ranger. She said there was a person down the the trail that needed help. SJ is trained as a first responder and immediately picked up his pace to go help. I was tripping on the rocks trying to keep up. When we came across the man, he was now on his feet with one friend under his arm holding him up. They had a cool, wet rag on his head. He was covered in salt -- almost like he had rolled in it. His limp arm had a Garmin that read 39 miles on it. SJ began asking him questions about when he last ate and drank. The guy was terse with his answers and acting like a jerk. Then SJ began asking him about his experience running this distance and the guy quipped back that he had run "50 marathons". I think he made SJ a little mad there (understatement). The tradition of the ultra sport is important to Sherpa John, and this guy's actions suggested that he didn't respect the distance he was running or respect us for trying to help him. We tried to convince him to take S!Caps and he refused. Jeremy offered up his Pepsi from the vending machine and he took a few sips and then refused that. Finally, SJ asked if anyone had a ginger chew. I had some of those in my pack. (Are you sensing how prepared we were?) The guy continued to be unpleasant and we let his friends drag him on up the hill toward Indian Garden so he could recover. It was early enough that he probably made it out of the canyon on his own, but I would guess that it will take him quite a while to fully recovery, particularly his ego.

A few more miles down the road we ran into a family with a young boy (11). The curious boy saw us running along and started asking a bunch of questions. He was wearing black with a huge back pack and surfer-style sunglasses. Looking behind him, he told his parents he would meet them at Phantom Ranch and began running with us. The kid was an absolute crack-up. In our few miles together, he asked dozens of questions about what we were doing and entertained us with his commentary on topics such as cliff diving from canyon into the Colorado River.

When we arrived at Phantom Ranch, we once again refilled our packs. SJ did a genius thing -- he placed a collect phone call to his wife from a pay phone. In the message he said his name was "John Phantom Ranch OK". When his wife heard the name and was asked to accept the collect charges of $9, he hung up. His message was delivered: we were at Phantom Ranch and we were OK. It was late, and there was no way we were getting out of the canyon before sun down, but the only thing to do was start working hard.

To Roaring Springs 

As we left Phantom Ranch we were about 38 miles in for the day and still faced a 14 mile 6000 foot climb back to the North Rim. Damn. We started running along. The first 9 miles to Roaring Springs are pretty gradual and mostly runnable. Our pace was a combination of fast walking little hills and running downhill.  Jeremy had stayed behind at Phantom Ranch to eat some dinner as he was starting to bonk. He eventually caught us (before Cottonwood) and even shared his last orange with us.

When we arrived at Roaring Springs, there was a gentleman sitting on the bench all alone. He introduced himself as Sam and asked if we would give a message to his wife at the top. His message was that he was not going to make it to the top and he planned to say the night at Roaring Springs. There is no place to camp at Roaring Springs so we immediately began asking questions. He was attempting a Rim2Rim and was exhausted. He was obviously dehydrated and had only consumed 96 ounces of Gatorade all day -- he was very deficient in both calories and electrolytes. Worse yet, he only had a few warm items to wear and a space blanket. We knew the temps would drop down to the 40's (or lower). Jeremy volunteered to help him  to the top.

SJ and I stupidly left our headlamps at camp. We had expected to be out of the canyon by dark. Fortunately, Sam had lots of lighting so Jeremy gave us his headlamp and told us to get going and get word to Sam's wife. He would coax Sam out of the canyon no matter what it took.

To Finish

We now had a 5 mile and 3000 foot climb standing between us and the top of the canyon. The first few miles went along well and we enjoyed the setting sun and cooling temps. I had switched to Perpetuem for fuel at Phantom Ranch and it was going down smooth. After a few miles we started slowing dramatically. Despite being on top of my nutrition and hydration, I was getting hungry; I needed real food. SJ had some bacon bits remaining from his lunch and I gobbled those down. It felt amazing to have that fat and protein satiate my hunger pains for a while. As darkness continued to roll in, I had my first moments of the day where I started feeling my fear of heights. The odd combination of light somehow drew the edge of the canyon into my peripheral  vision and I became terrified. The best way to keep moving forward was staring at John's shoes.

The climb was getting harder, darker, and now cold. I finally had to ask SJ for the headlamp so I could illuminate from behind, lighting the trail for both of us. Having only the one head lamp may have been a blessing -- we were forced to stay and work together. He was starting to crash and had to keep moving for me. And I had to stay and help him. We were grinding along at a little better than one mile an hour now. I was disappointed because it was apparent there would be no post-run feast or celebration. It was going to be too late when we arrived back at camp. It was all survival now.

The really difficult part of this journey for me was the "time on my feet".  I have never been up and working that hard for that long. My first 50 miler only took me 10 hours. The highs and lows I experienced in the canyon were much more dramatic. At one point, I was thinking that I wasn't prepared and might consider dropping out of Leadville 100. I just couldn't understand -- and still can't in some ways -- how this run turned out so hard. While I am thinking about all this, I am trying to keep SJ moving forward and up the canyon so we can get out. He was starting to bob-and-weave a little and finally told me he was "wrecked". He has run fourteen 100 milers and almost 40 total ultras. When he said this was one of the three toughest things he's done, I started to get the picture. I found that both comforting and frightening. Either way, we had to keep moving.

Mercifully, we saw flashlights shining back down at us. It was Sam's family at the trailhead. Our climb and our day were over. They began asking if we knew anything of him. In exchange for a ride to our campsite, we explained that our buddy Jeremy stayed behind to help Sam out of the canyon, assuring them that Jeremy knew what he was doing and that they would be fine. SJ estimated they would be 2 - 3 hours behinds us -- it was 2 hours exactly. Sam struggled to keep food down and stay upright, but he made it out of the canyon.

Nutrition Hydration

I am very happy with my nutrition and hydration. In fact, there were points I had to back off because my stomach was sending signals that I was taking in too much. The one mistake was that I should have brought more solid food. I was unprepared for a 16 hour journey and ran out.  Without SJ's bacon bits, I may have crashed as well. Below is a list of all the items I remember eating. It adds up to more than 5,000 calories.
  • 9 packets of Clip 2 (155 cals with protein and fat)
  • 1 GU Brew (150 cals, 2x sodium)
  • 2 GU Roctane Brew (250 cals)
  • 2 Accelerade (250 cals with protein)
  • 2 Perpetuem (270 cals with protein and fat)
  • 3 Bonk Breaker Bars (250 with protein and fat)
  • 6 Honey Stinger Gels (120)
  • 1 Honey Stinger Waffle (160)
  • 1 Arnold Palmer
  • 1 Orange
  • 25 S!Caps

Closing Thoughts

After reviewing my Garmin Data, discussing it with SJ, and processing it mentally, I am feeling better about the whole experience. It is tough to compare, but this event was plain hard. We all agree the best choice would have been to turn around at the top of the South Kaibab trail and take the shortest route back (about 42 total miles). All of us sensed that we were taking too long at the top of the South Rim. But we were all still optimistic enough not to make that choice. I guess it was good we didn't because we may not have been able to help those that we saw along the way.

I am so thankful that SJ and Jeremy went along with me on this journey. It was a real joy to get to know each of them and we worked extremely good as a team. Between the three of us, we always had what was needed to overcome any problems. It didn't hurt that they kept me laughing the entire day. SJ has a wealth of knowledge and experience and we tapped much of it. Jeremy was a great guy to meet and fun to have along. At one of our low points, he chimed in "man this is a big !@#$% ditch". It was perfectly timed!

The car ride home was long, but it was also the much needed time to discuss and process the event. In those conversations I remembered why I do this; I do it for the adventure, for the people I meet along way, and for the stories I get to tell. We accomplished all three of those objectives!

One last thing to anyone that comes across this write up on the Internet and considers a Rim2Rim (R2R) or Rim2Rim2Rim (R2R2R) adventure, please be prepared. I felt very frightened for many of the people we saw in that canyon. This is a vast distance and hard event. Gatorade is not enough -- it is glorified sugar water -- and does not provide enough calories or sodium for those extreme conditions. Do a little research and prepare yourself. Please.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekly Training Wrap - 5/14 - 5/20

This week was all about hitting a HUGE training week and running the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim.  Check back later for my race/event report.  For now, this is my second biggest week ever (in total mileage), my biggest ever in total time (almost 20 hours), and my biggest ever in vertical gain (almost 15K).

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday 7 GA Run
Wednesday9 GA Run
Thursday7GA Run
FridayRest Drive to Grand Canyon
Saturday 53 Grand Canyon R2R2R
Sunday Rest Return from Grand Canyon
Total 76 About 14700 vertical feet

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Weekly Training Wrap - 5/7 - 5/13

This week was devoted to recovery from the Colorado Marathon, attempting to give my sore left ankle some rest, and prepare for my Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim adventure next week.  I took several days and did some light weights and power walking/hiking at high grades (15 - 21%) on the treadmill. Things are still not 100% and may not be for some time. I will manage while I can as things recover quickly in between workouts.

I did a total of 10 hours of training this week, but it was pretty scattered.  Only 4.75 hours of the training was traditional running.  This was intended to give my ankle some time to heal.  Another 2.75 hours was power hiking on the treadmill at steep grades to prepare for some steep climbs in races this summer.  And the remaining 2.5 hours was a variety of cross training, including weights, yoga, and core work.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest Yoga, upper body weights
Tuesday 1 TM Power Hike
Wednesday4 TM Power Hike
Thursday4TM Power Hike
FridayRest Total body weights
Saturday 20 Long Run w/ my wife
Sunday 10 Trail Run
Total 39 About 9800 vertical feet

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Grand Canyon R2R2R Preview

A few months ago I emailed a fellow ultrarunner after seeing that he planned to do the Grand Canyon R2R2R this Spring. He replied and offered me to join. I have been wanting to do this run since my first trip to the Grand Canyon last year. Our plan is to drive down May 18th and camp at the North Rim. We will attempt the run on May 19th, then stay the night again and drive home on May 20th.

We don't have a plan for how long it will take as this is a unique journey and we hope to enjoy it. Collecting time on our feet is important to both of our respective 100 mile training plans. After the run we hope to enjoy a night under the stars, an open flame, some good food, and some beer!

The current weather forecast is for slightly hotter than normal May weather. The temperatures will be near 70 degrees on the North Rim where we are staying.  Phantom Ranch, in the bottom of the canyon, is projected to be between 98 and 101 degrees. And our turn around point at the South Rim should be about 80 degrees.


I have become a HUGE fan of the new GU Roctane Drink. The beverage provides me 250 calories in every serving. However, it is limited to an electrolyte beverage only. My companion for this journey, Sherpa John, suggested I try Clip2. Clip 2 provides some fat and protein that Roctane does not. I will likely have both on hand and alternate as necessary. My plan is to carry two handheld water bottles and my new GoLite Rush pack. The pack doubles as a hydration system and a carrying pack.

Shoes & Gear

I am not sure yet. I just ordered a pair of Montrail Masochists for longer runs. Having not yet tried those, I may revert to my MT110s or my PureGrit.  Below is a gear check list:
  • Two hand held water bottles
  • Shoes (???)
  • Shorts & shirt
  • Body glide
  • Garmin
  • Sun glasses
  • Visor (or floppy hat?)
  • Sun screen
  • GPS Camera
  • iPod
  • Headlamp (and batteries)
  • TNF Stormy Trail jacket
  • Tent, sleeping bag, pillow

Food provided a good article in which the runners outlined their needs for the day. My goal, as always with an ultra, is to get between 250 and 400 calories per hour. I will get between 150 and 250 of that from electrolyte beverages.  Here is a food list:
  • Clip 2 (10 packets)
  • Roctane Brew (4 servings)
  • Gels (4 - 6)
  • Perpetuem (2 packets)
  • Sustained Energy (2 packets -- for breakfast)
  • S! Caps
  • Honey Stinger Waffles (2 or 3)
  • Protein Bars (4 - 6)
  • Tums
  • Immodium AD
  • Candided Ginger
  • Steaks and corn (for the feast afterward)
  • Beer (for the feast afterward)
  • Couple of gallons of water

Route Plan

I borrowed the below information from an article in Ultra Running.  You can see from the below table that we are taking the "harder" path starting at the North Rim because the biggest climb of the day is the end. In fact, we end with three climbs totaling about 5600 feet in elevation.

Aid/Location Elevation Cum Miles Miles Gain/Loss
North Kaibab Trailhead 8241 0

Roaring Springs 5200 4.74.7 -3041
Cottonwood campground4000 6.9 2.2-1200
Phantom Ranch2560147.1-1440
Indian Garden campground3900 19.35.31340
Bright Angel Trailhead (South Rim) 6860 23.8 4.5 2960
Indian Garden campground 3900 28.34.5 -2960
Phantom Ranch 2560 33.65.3-1340
Cottonwood campground 4000 40.77.1 1440
Roaring Springs 5200 42.92.21200
North Kaibab Trailhead 8241 47.64.73041

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Colorado Marathon Race Report


As many of you know, I ran the Las Vegas RnR Marathon in December and had a frustrating and disappointing experience. Some of that was a result of a poorly organized race. Some of it was a result of poor race execution on my part. And some of it was likely due to poor strategy for remaining fueled for a night race. Nonetheless, I missed my goal of 3:15 and I still feel STRONGLY that I was capable that day.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my decision to sign up for the Colorado Marathon was influenced by my disappointment. The CO Marathon was filling at a record pace and I was forced to make a quick decision. Bummed about my efforts in Vegas, I wanted to redeem myself. There were points during training that I just didn't feel "into it" and even had a little "buyer's remorse". This was particularly true when I was injured and forced to think about whether or not I should have taken more time off to recover after a huge 2011. Training was overall good, but it was interrupted by injury and I was forced to keep it balanced as I work toward the Leaville 100 in August. It wasn't until my Platte River Half Marathon that I even considered this race as more than a training run.  A strong showing led me to believe that I was marathon ready, despite not being totally marathon focused. Jon tried convinced me that 3:10 was a possible outcome if I had a good day and was prepared to give a full race effort. More importantly, he convinced me that 3:15 was a reasonable outcome with less than full effort and minimal recovery time. Sorry for the long prelude, onto the report...

Leading Up to the Race

As part of my ultra training (and my frustration over Vegas), I have gone bananas reading all I can about nutrition and hydration. There was a very clear and precise plan for this race:
  • Eat 300 calories for every hour I was awake prior to the race (2 hours = 600 calories)
  • Consume 250 calories per hour from easily digestible carbs, fluids being the preferred way
As part of my research, I have been toying with GU Roctane Brew. It is a relatively new product and one of the few that can provide 250 calories per serving. It tastes very good and leaves my thirst satisfied. The problem was that the course serves GU Brew (same company, different product), which is roughly half the number of calories. I am not a big fan of gels and they require lots of water to be usable to your stomach or you wind up dehydrated. Add this all up and it meant one thing, I was carrying my own beverage for the entire race. I used a little waist pack and had individual baggies of Roctane Brew powder ready to mix. I know from testing that I can comfortably nurse a 21 ounce handheld every hour or 8 miles. That ratio is perfect because that is one serving and 250 calories.

The second point of emphasis was starting the race with a full tank of carbs (glycogen). For this I dug a little deeper and decided to experiment with some Sustainable Energy Powder by Heed.  The product offers 320 calories per serving.  It is made mostly of carbohydrates, but with just enough protein to satiate hunger, kickstart recovery, and facilitate efficient glycogen use. My plan was to down a serving of this immediately upon waking up and then nibble on a protein/energy bar (another 250 calories) on the bus ride. I figured that would leave me plenty of time to settle things and use the restroom before the race started. This last part was a bit of a crapshoot as I don't often get up 2 hours before a run, so it was somewhat untested. It seems to have worked like a charm.

Miles 1 - 12

I went back and forth all week on how to approach this race. 3:10 or 3:15? Despite Jon's efforts, I just didn't have faith in a 3:10. When the gun went off, the race started with a furious pace and almost all of the runners that I expected to finish near me took off quickly. My 3:15 plan was to start somewhere around 7:22 and ease into the race. The early splits where sub-7:20, and while it felt easy, I learned a hard lesson in Vegas. I was happy to back off and stay near 7:20. I rarely lost sight of Dave as he remained about a quarter of a mile of head of me for most of this stretch. My first stop to make my own GU Roctane was a little bumpy.  The aid station volunteer accidentally overfilled my container and I wasn't quite as prepared as I should have been. Then I had to stop and water a tree at about the 10 mile mark. Finally, just after mile 12 I caught up with Dave and we began running together. I told him I hoped to stay in the high 7:20's until mile 20 and then I would pour it on (assuming I could).

Miles 13 - 17

Dave and I continued running together. We crossed the halfway point together at 1:36:42. It was at this point that I knew 3:10 was not going to happen, I was running the course long and needed to make up too much time.  Toward the end of this section together, things got a little disjointed. First I stopped to make my final GU Roctane drink at the 16 mile mark. (The second powder mix went off flawlessly and took me less than 10 secs.) Then I took my only GU of the day (a Roctane GU as well) and I had an instant pick me up that pepped up my legs. Shortly there after, Dave dropped something and stopped to pick it up. I continued on running and that end our stint of nearly five miles together.

Miles 18 - 21

As we cleared Ted's Place and turned toward Fort Collins, I could hear Dave from behind asking the crowd to "cheer on his friend AJ". That was a welcome cheer and a great gesture by him.  I pumped my fist in the air to acknowledge Dave and the crowd. I was feeling strong and ready to hit the hill that everyone talks about -- the only hill in this race. As I approached 18.5 miles on my Garmin, I could see the hill off to my right. We turned and headed straight toward it and I thought, "that's it?!". It didn't look all that bad to me. I hit it hard and kept a strong split (7:25). It did hurt a little, but not like I had expected. Once I crested that hill, my mind was free and my legs wanted to go. But I continued to  keep the pace conservative because 7 miles was still too much race to turn on the after burners. 

Dave had told me that Nico was "way up there" before he and I departed. I sort of expected to see Nico at some point, but I was shocked that it was not until mile 21. He looked strong. We exchanged pleasantries and then he started talking trash with a young guy and picked up the pace. I was still not ready to blow it out and I let him go ahead.

Miles 22 - Finish

Finally at mile 22, I decided it was time to start gradually pouring it on. And pour it on I did. I would like to have kept a count of how many people I passed, but there were countless half marathoners (and runners in the 5K and 10K) that I was passing as well. It was impossible to decipher from behind who was a torn up marathoner and who was a "walk-only" half marathoner. Nico remained strong with me until 23 and then I really started pouring it on. The remainder of the race was a bit of a blur as I just kept running harder and harder until I couldn't run any harder. Once I had determined for sure that 3:15 was in the bag, I let up a little until the final stretch into town.

Maybe my best marathon photo ever -- raising my hand to celebrate a well executed race and finally breaking 3:15.

At the Finish

After I finished, the first person I saw was Jon. He is such a good friend that he let me talk on-and-on about my race and Chuck's amazing performance. He finally told me his time and I was just stunned! I felt like a jerk for yammering about myself when he had blown it out. Then the rest of the crew started pouring in and the times were ALL amazing. Jen came in with the gutsiest performance of the day. Nico managed to put the finishing touches on an incredible race and a BQ. Dave had a strong race with a course PR. And on it goes. It was a great day for all.

My family and I had a LONG and exhausting Saturday, so we decided to check out and hit the road early. Unfortunately, we did not stay around to see Kegan, Ellen, Joanna, and many of our other friends finish. (I heard they all did amazing!)

Closing Thoughts

I guess my indecision in picking a race strategy showed as I pretty much split the difference between my goals. There is always a part of me that hopes/wishes for more, but that is the same side of me that keeps pushing harder for bigger goals. I think a full race effort today could have put a 3:10 in play, but I'll never know. Sorry for that little bit of lament, but I had to do it :)

The good news was that I felt strong and in control the whole run. I spent at least 20 of the 26 miles trying to hold myself back. My nutrition and hydration plan went off with almost machine-like precision. (I think I am starting to get a handle on it). And, the other piece of good news is that I don't feel blown up. My quads are not overly sore and I feel relatively fresh considering that I just raced a marathon. There is one more good push in me, but it will have to wait until at least 2013. This course will definitely get serious consideration when that day comes. It is beautiful, fun, and built for speed.

Final numbers: 3:13:29, 59th place (of 988), 53rd among men, 11th in my AG (35 - 39).  A near dead perfect split for the two halves of the race (about 3 or 4 second positive split).

Weekly Training Wrap - 4/30 - 5/6

There isn't much to say in regards to training this week, the entire week was devoted to tapering and preparing for the Colorado Marathon.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday 5 Recovery Pace
Wednesday7 Dress Rehearsal
Thursday5Recovery Pace
Saturday 3 Shakeout
Sunday 26 Colorado Marathon
Total 47 About 1400 vertical feet