Sunday, July 21, 2013

Silver Linings

There is a lot to say and this could be a long, rambling post. Sorry, but I hope it is worth it.

The first thing to say is that my knee is a wreck. Things I used to be take for granted -- like easy hikes and long dog walks -- now cause me pain. Sometimes intense pain. It hurts more or less all the time right now, just in varying degrees. I am convinced something is structurally wrong and not just a case of ITB. The bad news is that an MRI was mostly inconclusive. The major components appear to be in good condition (all the major ligaments, cartilage, etc...) other than some significant bruising at my source of pain. Given that I have been patient with this injury since March, I have decided for a more aggressive plan and will have it scoped on August 7th. The surgeon's theory is that my lateral meniscus is partially torn, allowing my knee to move laterally and causing the bruising. If he is right and surgery goes smoothly, I will be pretty limited for the 6 weeks following surgery and won't realistically be 100% for at least 12 weeks. In other words, 2013 has been a bust other than my great run at Old Pueblo back in March.

One thing the PT pointed out is that my left calf is smaller than my right and my muscles in the front of my left leg along the shin appear to be showing signs of atrophy. The implication is that I have likely been favoring that leg for sometime. Certainly that gives me something to work on as I rehabilitate from surgery and rebuild. It seems that things likely aren't "firing" right on my left side -- quads, glutes, etc... I will certainly have to work with her on a plan to get those things back in order.

After that introduction, are wondering why I titled this "Silver Linings"? The reason is that I am seeing more clearly now than I have in some time. I can no longer just push through this injury. There is no option other than to stop and take inventory of things and where I want to go next. How motivated am I to rehab? Does running mean enough to me to have surgery? Why do I let my outlook hang on the balance on how I am running? Some hard questions to face.

The good news is that I am already looking ahead to 2014. And with all this time off and watching my friends kick butt last weekend, I am starting to get rejuvenated. There are some hard days ahead, but I can plug away. It is pretty clear now that I have let running occupy too much space in my life and, in doing so, have lost the edge I once had. Going back to training for LT100 last year, the training has really started to feel like work and like it is taking over my life. Hundred milers are brutal and I have seen quite a few runners get spit out by them. As a consequence, I started to rethink the way I train. I honestly believe I can run 20-25% fewer miles during the course of a year without dropping any performance. And I can find more balance and hopefully get re-engaged with a love of running. I enjoy weight training, bike riding, walking with my wife, and even just sleeping in once in a while! All of those things suffer when I am "training". I am tired of worrying about the weekend weather forecast starting on Wednesday.

Probably the most honest thing I can say, I sleep better right now than I have for at least a year. Some of that I attribute to no longer stressing about training. Some of that is attributable to keeping normal hours, waking up when my body is ready and not to an alarm clock. There have been signs of fatigue that I have been ignoring for several months now. Duncan Callahan writes of this topic in a recent blog, culminating in a great quote: "The ego satisfaction of going all-out, all of the time, will only last until you can’t do it anymore." His blog is great because it touches on some many of the topics I blog about and kick around in my own mind all the time -- getting enough sleep, the use of caffeine, low carb dieting, etc....

Once I am healthy enough to run some, hopefully by late-September, my first priority will be to regain some consistency to my training. If things come together quickly enough, I'd like to race a 5K and maybe a 10K over the winter to try and regain some speed and power in my running. Both of my PRs at those distances are pretty soft anyway. Training in this timeframe should be dominated by form work, hills sprints, strides, and lots of short but hard workouts.

I will save 2014 plans for a future post, particularly because it is likely to change a lot over the next 6 months. But I would say there is a strong chance I run a hundred, which one depends on lotteries (Western States mainly). I am starting to entertain a few things that I never thought I would consider (Hard Rock). At this point, I am not feeling super motivated to return to Leadville.  There are too many quality ultras out there, each of them different. But, maybe? The Pacific Northwest has a strong appeal to me right now. If I don't do a hundred miler, then I will almost certainly do a destination fifty miler to some place fun. And, if I come up bankrupt in lotteries, then I might consider a shot at a BQ at Colorado Marathon. That seems like a long shot and I wouldn't know for sure until after lottery season (December). I think the only significant thing I said in that babbling above is that I am likely to do a hundred miler next year. Other than that, most everything else remains on the table.

I am in a good place. The grind of four months of fighting injury has pushed me to a point where I am at peace with things. And I genuinely think it is for the best, even if it isn't what I wanted.

My Thoughts on Training

I first posted on this topic in my post-mortem from last year's Leadville 100, then again during my Old Pueblo training, and finally during my post-mortem from Old Pueblo.

The basis of this post is what I have learned from more than two years of ultra training. I will disclose that I don't know it all and that training should always be fit to the strengths (and weaknesses) of the individual. But, I think I can definitively say that I was doing more work than I needed to for 2011 and most of 2012. And, I was not a balanced enough runner, which has likely contributed to my recent run of injuries.

Here are the stats compare my 2013 Old Pueblo 50 and 2011 Leadville Silver Rush 50 and prove my theory*:

Old PuebloSilver Rush
Avg Miles Per Week4962
Max Weekly Miles5880
# 20+ milers713
# 22+ milers47
# B2Bs37
Avg combined B2B miles30 miles40 miles
Total Vertical74,00076,000
Race Pace11:1512:55

* Note that according to these races are similar in difficulty (a factor of .95 +/- .02)

I think the table speaks for itself. Other than vertical gain, I trained significantly less for the 15 weeks leading up to Old Pueblo and ran 1 minute and 40 secs faster per mile. Astounding. I will agree that some of my gains from 2011 to 2013 are not explained by the variables above: factors like lifetime mileage/base and better nutrition and hydration. In fact, I would say a better understanding of nutrition and hydration alone made a significant difference in my results. The point is that I trained less and ran a much better race in 2013.

Here are the grounding principals behind my argument:
  • Somewhere not far beyond 50 miles there is a diminishing returns to training UNLESS you can handle huge weeks, like 100+ miles. Once you reach that point of diminishing returns, talent matters more than training. Followed closely by nutrition and race day execution.
  • Even at the ultra distance, intensity matters. Once you have an aerobic base in place, you get fitter by running harder. (Of course, you should still follow the hard/easy principal.)
  • Proper recovery is essential to continue to making fitness gains. And to run harder, you need to allow for more recovery. Recovery includes sleep and downtime, not just short, easy runs. 
  • Most weekend warrior runners do not have enough time to balance 80 miles per week plus life plus cross training and still recover properly.
  • More well rounded runners make better ultra runners. If you improve any pace from the mile to the marathon, you are improving your ultra times as well (assuming an adequate amount of specificity).
  • You can overdo specificity training. Most marathon programs only have you do about 3 twenty mile long runs. Likewise, you don't need to do B2Bs on the trails every weekend to be ready for an ultra.
  • You can supplement specificity with creativity -- do eccentric quad workouts to prepare for long downhills, get on the stair master or a steep incline treadmill to prepare for long uphills, etc...
  • Think of yourself as an athlete, not just a runner. Train all aspects of your body and in all planes of motion.
The specific things that I did for my Old Pueblo training cycle included:
  • Lots of MAF/base-building runs where I ran by a HR of 145 - 150. The pace of these runs dropped from 9:15 min early in my cycle to around 7:50 by race time.
  • Lots of "light quality" in my base runs -- strides, progression, etc... (See Brad Hudson's book)
  • Fewer, more intense long runs.  I did most of them in progressive fashion where I would start in Zone 1 for 60 - 90 mins, then Zone 2 for 60 - 90 mins, and end up in Zone 3 or 4 by the end.
  • I alternated between hard road runs (like the above) and then specific slow-distance runs on the trails
  • More 2 - 3 hours runs instead of 3 - 4 hour runs
  • Speed work (intervals, hills, tempos) every 7 - 10 days, again after an adequate base is built
There are a few things I will look to change in my next training cycle:
  • Lately, I have also been using the bike more to keep an aerobic base with out the stress of the repetitive motion of running.
  • Add some tempo runs on the trails, specifically going hard uphill. I think I get a little too comfortable hard hiking hills. Similar to alternating between hard long runs and easy long runs, I would alternate between hiking hills and running hills (in different workouts) to get trained for both.
The bottom line for me is that I am not elite. Nor am I twenty five years old with a lifestyle built around running. I don't have a team of people -- nutritionists, physical therapists, chiropractors, etc...  -- looking after me on a regular bases. I only engage these people reactively when something has gone wrong. So why the heck would I try to train like someone with that profile?! I believe the content of this post will serve most runners well. It is unconventional logic to those that believe more miles equals more success, but it should be seen as good news. You can train smarter, not harder.

Guest Post: Silver Rush 50

by Steve Poling
(Thanks, AJ!)

The Silver Rush 50 Mile Race weekend was shaping up to be epic fun.  I was excited to fly out to Colorado as I’d never been there before.  I knew it would be a blast to hang out with friends and run a tough ultramarathon in the mountains of famous Leadville.  The main event for the weekend was the Silver Rush 50 Mile Race, which takes place on an out-n-back mountain course from elevations of 10,000’ - 12,000’, with nearly 8,000’ of climbing and 8,000’ of descending.  

A huge thanks for AJ for making this weekend possible.  After picking me up at the airport, AJ began telling me about the area and took me to his place for dinner with his wonderful family.  After a restful night, with AJ’s dog Rufus keeping me company, we got up early and got ready to head to Leadville.  Chuck, his daughter and Jon arrived at AJ’s and we were off.  AJ’s daughter, master crew chief of Leadville endurance events, also joined us for the adventure.  I think AJ’s daughter has more experience in Leadville than most endurance athletes who have been there.  The drive to Leadville was so scenic.  It’s hard to describe the beauty of Colorado.  Definitely the most beautiful place I have ever been.  I rode with Jon and he told me lots of stories about the areas as we drove through the mountains.  He may or may not have gotten pulled over (or pulled himself over) and talked his way out of a speeding ticket.  The highlight of the day was the planned hike up to Hope Pass.  You don’t normally go on a 3.5 hour hike (with 3,350’ of climbing) two days before a race but this was a special hike to a spectacular pass.  I loved it!  AJ brought a special beer to toast the epic ascent.

Chuck, AJ, and I on Hope Pass.

The view from Hope Pass was spectacular.  I was cold and it was windy but I could’ve taken in this view all day. (and I was often cold this weekend....being from sunny, hot Arizona!)

We woke up Saturday ready to crew for AJ racing the Silver Rush 50 Mountain Bike Race.  Jon, Chuck, and I ran an easy 30 minutes after breakfast.  It was my first time running at 10,000’.  The elevation didn’t negatively impact me as much as I feared.  Mostly, it was harder to run easy and my heart rate was elevated by the easiest of running efforts.  Once my mind adjusted to those realities, I didn’t worry as much about the altitude negatively impacting my race.  Due to his knee injury, AJ couldn’t run the 50 but decided to tackle the challenging MTB race.  We had a great time cheering and crewing for AJ.  It’s a testament to his uber endurance athlete skills that he could perform so well in the race despite being a newbie bike rider.  It was fun to witness.

Mike, Jon, Chuck, and I crewing for AJ.

AJ at Printer Boy inbound downing a Red Bull.

On Saturday night, our pre-race dinner was Chuck’s famous homemade lasagna.  It was delicious.  We enjoyed the evening and then hit the sack for some restless sleep before the race.  I tossed and turned before my alarm went off at 3:45 am.  I had my usual pre-race breakfast of a peanut butter sandwich and coffee around 4 am.  My stomach was a little upset as I was a little anxious about the race.  Runners usually talk about everything and often share TMI so I’ll just briefly say that usually after coffee and breakfast, I hit the bathroom and take care of the main bathroom needs before a long day on the trails.  As race day anxiety would have it, I couldn’t go to the bathroom before the race.  Bummer.  I was just going to manage this later on the course.  I finished preparing my gear and drop bag and tried to take in some calories of Hammer’s Perpetuem around 5:30 am.  We took the short drive to the start line and were ready to roll.  Chuck, Mike, Jon, and I gave each other a quick good luck and we were set.  In no time, the gun went off and we were hiking up Dutch Henry Hill, which is the tradition in Leadville, a short, steep climb to reach the race course.  I ran with Jon and since we didn’t see Chuck or Mike, we chatted and settled in for the long day.  We took it easy early, with miles in the 9:00-11:00 minute pace depending on the climb.  Miles 1-10 are a steady ascent going from about 10,000’ to 12,000’, for the first time of the day.  

Other than yesterday’s easy run, this was my first time running above 10,000’ elevation.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Probably the biggest difference for me going up to 12,000’, besides being cold, was that even though I ran easy, my heart rate was elevated.  It takes getting used to since runners usually go easier to keep the heart rate down.  It wasn’t really possible to keep the heart rate low when you run from 10,000 - 12,000’.  Around mile 4, my stomach was still upset and my body was telling me it was time to go to the bathroom.  I’ve spent enough time on the trails that this wasn’t a problem.  I didn’t panic but started to look for a tree so I could squat and hopefully feel a little better.  I think one of the keys to being a successful ultra runner is staying calm and keep problem solving on the go.  I’d spend enough time in the mountains during training to be ready for the quick squat behind a tree.  I always carry a few baby wipes in a sandwich bag for just such an occasion.  Sometime after mile 4, I told Jon that I had to find a tree and that I would likely not see him again.  He assured me that we would be running together again soon.  I left the trail, found a decent tree, and went to the bathroom.  I felt much better and was happy to see that I was only delayed a little over 2 minutes.  I figured that I wouldn’t see Jon or Mike again so I chatted with another runner and then put on my headphones.  It was great to ease into the race, take in the amazing scenery, and listen to some good tunes.  Before I knew it, I was at the first aid station and refilled my water bottles.  The trail got much steeper as I left the aid station and headed toward the top of this climb.  Before long, I saw two runners ahead that looked like Jon and Mike.  Sure enough, I came up on them and expressed my surprise at running with them again.  We had fun chatting and taking in the scenic climb to Iowa Amphitheater.  It was spectacular.  After climbing to 12,000’+, we began a 3 mile descent into the next aid station, Printer Boy.  

I was looking forward to seeing AJ at Printer Boy.  We thought we would give AJ a surprise and not only come in together but come in holding hands and running in unison.  We did just that and all had a good laugh.  We arrived at Printer Boy around 2:30 into the race.  AJ had warned us to be patient on the way out to Stumptown, the half-way point.  The course is tougher on the way out, around 4,600’ of climbing compared to the 3,200’ of climbing on the way back.  After a brief stop at Printer Boy for some water, we were off to the next section that had a steep ascent we were warned about.  It was neat seeing LT100 founder Ken Chlouber out there.  He is famous for saying "you are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can!". 

Ken Clouber at Printer Boy during the MTB race.

A little celebration on the timing mat at Printer Boy outbound.

 I ran with Jon and Mike briefly during this next section.  There was a descent and then ascent before we hit the main section, which was about a 3+ mile and 1,100’ climb.  I quickly got into a rhythm of power hiking and soon left them behind.  I felt strong climbing.  I really spent a great deal of time training for such a climb.  I paced this section fairly comfortably in miles of 14:55, 14:24 and 12:32, which took me back up to 12,000’ elevation.  That climb ended up being not as hard as I anticipated.  I think this was the case because my legs were still fresh with only being about 3 hours into the race.  The next section was an undulating trail around Ball Mountain.  This section was at the elevation of around 11,000’ and then went over to the drop towards Stumptown.  The several mile drop down to the turnaround at Stumptown and the climb back out was the toughest part of the day for me.  For the first time of the day, the sun came out from behind the clouds to heat things up.  I hit the turnaround in about 4:29, saw AJ, exchanged my gel flasks, and kept moving.  It was great to see AJ again, and I saw Mike and Jon coming in as I was headed out.

Coming into Stumptown to refill.

So far, I had stayed on top of my hydration and fuel.  I aimed for between 250-275 calories of Hammer’s Perpetuem and gel, 1-3 Endurolyte capsules, and 16-24 ounces of water per hour.  I was on target.  I hit a rough spot leaving Stumptown and climbing back up Ball Mountain.  I was hot and feeling tired.  The toughest was the last mile, which had about a 600’ climb and I struggled with an 18:49 mile.  I kept hiking and repeated the mantra: I can do this, I’m a good climber.  Over and over.  Finally the climb was over.  It felt like forever.  I recovered as I eased around Ball Mountain and back up to the aid station at 12,000’.  I knew there would be a sweet downhill after the aid station and I just hoped to have some legs under me to hammer it.  I remembered AJ’s words before the race, be patient getting to Stumptown and then smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.  I actually had to be patient till I climbed out of Stumptown but then I sure hoped that I had ‘em.  I got some water at the aid station and kept moving.  All day, I spent less than a minute at each aid station.  I tried to be quick and be gone.  I got some momentum going on the downhill and the cloudy skies rejuvenated my spirits.  The next mile, mile 30, was in 8:26 and I knew I was back in business.  I got excited.  The next mile flew by in 7:56, and the next as I headed up and down back into Printer Boy was in 9:39.  I was tired but hopeful for a strong finish.  

I was excited to see AJ again and came into Printer Boy about 6:30 into the race.  I dumped most of my gear as it was annoying me, kept a water bottle and gel flask, and kept moving.  I knew that I had one more tough climb back to 12,000’.  I figured it would take me about an hour.  From there, I wasn’t sure I had it in me to finish the race in 90 minutes and keep 9 hours in play.  I was going to give it my best shot.  I was tired and struggled up the last climb.  I was hoping to have some energy to be able to hammer the last 10 miles, which had the sweet descent to the finish line.  It had been raining for a while now, which was nice - a bit chilly, but welcome.  I got to the top of the climb and looked to get some momentum going as I headed to the last aid station.  After a 17:07 mile at the top of the climb, I hit an 8:25 mile to start the descent.  I was hanging on for dear life.  Just needed to get to the finish line.  It’s been said that one trait common to all ultrarunners is an incomparable tolerance for discomfort.  I think this is true.  There is nothing comfortable about running this late in such a long race.  But that is part of the challenge and part of the adventure.  If this were easy, then it wouldn’t be so alluring.  You have to stay focused on your goal and just keep pushing.  The next miles flew by in 8:52, 9:28, 8:22, and 9:21.  I was pleasantly surprised to keep the legs turning over this late in the race.  It was a mind warp for me to be running these splits after 40-ish miles of racing.  I haven’t had this experience before but didn’t dare slow down as I just wanted to collapse at this point.  I was beat.  My stomach was upset and I didn’t feel like taking in any calories.  But I knew I needed some calories.  I sucked on a couple of peppermints, which helped my stomach settle a bit.  I took a gel, chased with water, and was looking forward to some coke at the aid station.  Nothing like some liquid sugar and caffeine to keep me going.  There were a couple hills towards the end and I was exhausted.  The last couple miles were in the 10:00-11:00 pace.  I already knew that finishing in 9 hours was not in play but had been pushing to stay under 9:10.  Why?  Just because it sounded better to me to finish in the single digits above 9 hours.  Silly little things like that keep you pushing towards the finish line when you are exhausted.  I hit the top of Dutch Henry Hill and heard AJ yell my name.  I raised my arm to celebrate and made my way down the hill to the finish.  I threw my stuff on the ground at the bottom of the hill and ran to the finish line. I was so happy to be able to stop running.  I was also thrilled to run a solid ultramarathon.  I finished in 9:09, a 10 minute positive split, and in 61st place out of the field of 449.  I accomplished my main goal of running the race I thought I was capable of running.  That’s a great feeling.  I was dead tired and had an upset stomach for the rest of the day but it was worth it.  We had fun celebrating the successful day that all the guys had on the trail. 


I continue my learning of ultrarunning.  My hydration and nutrition went pretty well.  My plan is closer to being where I want it.  About the only thing I would’ve changed in this race is more gels late in the race and less Perpetuem.  In the last two hours of the race, I couldn’t choke down the Perpetuem without fear of vomiting.  The gels go down easier when my stomach is queasy.  The gels are also easier to chase with water.  I also would’ve drank a coke earlier in the race, probably at Printer Boy.  The extra sugar and caffeine late in the race would’ve helped me.  Overall, I took in about 3/4 of my calories from Perpetuem and 1/4 from Hammer gels.  I would keep that again for the first half of the race and change the second half to maybe 1/2 and 1/2 and down the stretch, just gel.  My training plan ended up being adequate.  Of course, I wish I had a longer period to train.  After recovering from the OP50,  I had a solid 10 weeks of training.  This included lots of 3+ hour runs and two runs of 4-5 hours.  I also had some quality back-2-back runs.  I did lots of climbing and really focused on being a better climber in the midst of long mountain runs.  I did some reading and watched some Youtube videos to learn some climbing techniques.  I’ll keep working on this.  Surprisingly, my feet were in great shape at the end of the race.  No aches, blisters or any problems.  The DryMax Trail socks and Altra Lone Peak shoes were golden.  Everything else in my hips and legs, particularly my knees, were achy and sore, which is to be expected.  I hope to run more ultras in the future.  They are a blast.  For now, my next races are the Tucson Marathon in December and then the Boston Marathon in April.  After that, I’ll likely be done with marathoning and turn my focus to ultramarathoning.  I love being in the mountains and going on long runs.  It makes me happy.
Thanks to the guys for making this a special weekend.  It was awesome being with them and their families.  And thanks to my friend Kathleen for helping me with my fuel plan and helping me deal with what to expect at higher altitudes.  And special thanks to AJ for this great weekend and for getting me into ultra running.  I couldn’t have done this without him :) 

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Thank you AJ Wellman

July 14th, 2013 

Silver Rush 50 ~ Race Report

After a few days of good fun with great friends, race morning was finally here. A short nights rest and I was up at 3:45 am and getting ready for a big day with much anxiety. With everything packed, I ate a calorie laden drink for breakfast and my wife gave us a short ride over to the race start. A big kiss to the wife and it was time to try and stay warm and relaxed with Jon, Steve and Mike (my fellow warriors in battle) at the start.

As we were standing there shooting the bull, my stomach was wrenching with much more anxiety than I care to admit. I wasn’t sure what I was in for or if I was trained enough to even complete what lay ahead.

Start Line to Black Cloud Outbound (7 mile aid station) ~

One last handshake to the boys and with a gunshot (a real rifle shot), we were off and climbing Dutch Henry Hill. None of us wanted part of the silly race up to the top so we just forged on. After seeing my wife, daughter and AJ at the top, I put my earphones in and kicked up the volume. I started with what felt like a decent pace (not too hard, not too conservative) and found myself passing people early, which I expected as many people start too far up in the pack to start many races.

Those first seven miles were not nearly as hard as I expected them to be and I found myself not stopping to hike even once all the way into the Black Cloud aid station. The pack was thinning and I stuck with two runners who were setting a sustainable pace (one of them being “Tom” who I ran almost 90% of the race with). Nutrition and hydration were going “ok” at this point and I was feeling fresh. As we approached the aid station, we found that it was still being set up and I hadn’t taken in enough fluids yet to need replenishment so I kept moving on. Tom stopped to use the Porta-potty and the other runner stopped to pick up trash he dropped leaving me alone for a few miles.

Actual Time – 1hr 3mins

Black Cloud to Printer Boy Outbound (13.5 mile aid/crew station) ~

I worked on eating a Bonk Breaker Bar, refueling on electrolytes and Roctane after leaving Black Cloud, quickly realizing that NONE of them were appealing in the slightest. Tom finally passed me again (a much stronger hiker than me) and I just tried to stay within 50 yards of him up to the high point turn (mile 10).  At mile 9, I couldn’t sustain running any longer with the incline significantly rising (375+ feet of elevation gain in each of the next two miles) so I worked a one minute run/walk strategy.  The view of the amphitheater bowl was gorgeous and worth the effort. At the high point turn, I caught Tom and we made some idle chit chat before I turned on the speed. I left Tom behind and focused on staying vertical at a fast pace (one small misstep could have ended the day). I bombed down the frontage road for the next 4 miles at a fast quip (two of the miles splits were 6:19 and 6:15).

As I ran into the Printer Boy crew station, right there to greet me were AJ and Savannah (AJ’s daughter) with smiles. AJ’s first words were, “Dude, you’re running in 4th place”. I was utterly shocked and in denial as AJ replaced my bottles with more fluids. I had AJ grab more food out of my back vest pocket for the next stretch knowing that I was already behind on nutrition. I saw my wife and daughter at the base of the exit hill out of the crew station and gave each of them a big kiss.

Goal Time – 2hrs 10mins ****  Actual Time – 1hr 59mins

Kissing my sweet Mia

Tackling a small hill out of Printer Boy

Printer Boy to Rock Garden (18 mile aid station) ~

I was already worried about this stretch of the race (miles 14 to 18) as it involved very little views to inspire you, it had harder terrain to run on and it was the point where the day just started to warm up. I stuck to the one minute run/walk strategy through here and just tried to keep the 3rd place guy in my sights immediately recognizing that my competitive side just kicked into high gear. He knew I was on him and he pushed the pace even harder. Tom caught me and the 3rd place guy and left us in the dust. This stretch was hard, but not nearly as hard as I expected, so I was pleased running into the Rock Garden aid station. Once again, I was NOT interested in eating or drinking much and when the aid station crew guys asked me what they could get me, I said “anti-nausea pills” half way joking …but I wouldn’t have turned them down if they did have some. I refueled on both water and Roctane (lemon-lime – BLAHHHH) and geared up for the next hard stretch up Ball Mountain. I caught the 3rd place guy (now 4th after Tom passed us both) and once again decided to settle in behind Tom.

Actual Time – 2hrs 42mins

Rock Garden to Stumptown (Half way point aid/crew station) ~

As we left Rock Garden, we were once again treated to some sensational views looking back down into Leadville and up into the Ball Mountain/Mosquito Pass Bowl. There was a mish-mash of running terrain mixed with some hard climbs. Sticking with Tom was a good strategy so far, so I continued. Another guy now passed me and Tom up the final Ball Mountain ascent and he looked VERY strong. I didn’t really care at that point and just kept Tom in my sights. When I finally peaked Ball Mountain, I said to one of the race crew, “That was brutal”. His response “Yeah, that f-ing sucks, but you’re kicking ass” appearing to have done it himself at some point in the past.

Renewed and focused, I relied on my good downhill running ability to catch up with Tom and make up some good time lost hiking up the other side of Ball Mountain. This section was hard to bomb because of its huge descent, but I did well. This was the first time in the day that I really felt my quads barking. I kept using excuses as to why I wasn’t eating at this point (not hungry, too hard to eat and run, blah, blah, blah), but knew I wasn’t doing well in that regard and I was going to have to fess up to AJ when I came into Stumptown. This was the ONE thing AJ emphasized most in training …CALORIES. Once I caught Tom, we BS’d the last mile into Stumptown as I found out he was using this race as a training run for the LT100. We talked about family, where we were from, how we were feeling and just how happy we were to be half way done.

I rolled into the crew station not feeling very good and the first thing I said to everyone was, “This is HARD”. I then fessed up to AJ that I wasn’t eating at all and not feeling super well. His response, “You’re going to fast …borderline irresponsible”. It was at that point that I realized I was almost 20 minutes ahead of pace for an 8hr finish. AJ asked me if I needed anything and I’m pretty sure I said “NO” to everything until he asked if I wanted my energy drink, at which point I gratefully accepted. I knew as I was standing there sipping on my drink that I was getting very comfortable not moving and said, “I need to get going or I’m going to sit down and not get back up”. AJ’s very fatherly-stern advice was, “Slow down, hike the up-hills and EAT”. For the first time that day, I was worried about a DNF (Did Not Finish) and was very concerned about my nutrition (or lack thereof). One more kiss to my wife and I geared up for a MONSTER climb.

Goal Time – 3hrs 50mins ***  Actual Time - 3hrs 34mins

Rolling into Stumptown

Drinking my Bing energy drink and trying to keep my composure

Stumptown to Rock Garden Inbound (30 mile aid station) ~

Knowing what I just came down, I struggled to stay positive as I went back UP. I crossed paths first with Steve, who looked happy as could be descending into Stumptown. I next saw Mike who asked how I was doing and I said “not well” and I’m sure I didn’t look well either. I then saw Jon and when he asked how I was doing, I think I said “I’m struggling” …and probably looked like I was struggling on this un-runnable stretch. After letting Tom and one more person go out of Stumptown ahead of me, I started to give less and less power to my competitive side and got back on the “just finish” band-wagon. I kept Tom in my sights and just mimicked his run/walk strategy, which FINALLY got us up to the top of Ball Mountain again. I was neck and neck with Tom rolling into Rock Garden where I saw Michael Aish (two time New Zealand Olympian) sitting on a camping chair drinking a can of Coke. He said, “Nice hat” (I was wearing a Run CO hat from his running store) and I said, “AISH”. We chatted for a few moments and he informed me that he wasn’t racing today, but rather just training for the LT100 and that he’d see me later. I grabbed a cheese rollup, took a bite and struggled to swallow it for the next 5 minutes. The rest of it went to the forest creatures as I tossed it.

Actual Time – 4hrs 33mins

Rock Garden to Printer Boy Inbound (34.5 mile aid/crew station) ~

The best part of this section was going DOWN the original 14 to 18 mile segment that plagued my dreams days before. I caught some good momentum down this stretch, but was still struggling with the knowledge that I was NOT eating correctly and tried to focus on making sure I drained my Roctane and tried a PocketFuel (almond butter paste). Bad idea. It was the first time in the day that I started to gag because it was so thick and my mouth was so dry that I had to eventually wash it all down with straight water in one gulp. I was a little deterred by that and when I made the turn back into the trees towards Printer Boy, I started to really feel the up-hills. I had little strength to push hard so I stuck with the plan to run/walk. One strong runner came flying by me (sand bagger) and then a few minutes later, Aish came right up on my side with a happy greeting. I said, “Go get ‘em Mike”. His response was silent as he showed me his watch wasn’t even on at that point and I was reminded I was NEVER in his league. He was out there having fun as I struggled.

As I came into Printer Boy, I was VERY encouraged by the cheers of my family, friends and spectators. When I came upon AJ, I wasn’t given the choice for sunscreen …he just sprayed it on me, which I was grateful for because I’m not sure I could have made smart decisions like that myself. I ditched gloves, arm sleeves and extra food. AJ offered me some food, the first of which was another PocketFuel and I emphatically said “NOOOO”. I grabbed 4 gels, AJ refueled my fluids and told me that I had one final push to go and then it was all down hill. One more big kiss to my wife and a kiss to my daughter, who wasn’t really interested in any more kisses from her sweaty, smelly dad.

Actual Time – 5hrs 12mins

Feeling hot, but "up" coming into Printer Boy Inbound

Trying not to fall down the steep little hill at Printer Boy Inbound

Printer Boy to Black Cloud Inbound (40 mile aid station) ~

On the way out of the aid station, I could see Tom and Aish ahead of me chatting. Aish dropped back for a second to meet up with me and said, “no need to run alone. Come up and run with us”. What I wanted to say was “Piss off Aish”, but instead I said, “Don’t wait for me. I’m going to take my time”. He promptly went back up to Tom and ran with him for a few steps and I could tell immediately that Tom must have said the same thing because in seconds, Aish was almost a half mile ahead of us. It was clear that both Tom and I were struggling up these HARD four miles and it was easily the most hiking miles of the day. As I lumbered through those 4 miles, I pushed on knowing that AJ was right …this was the last hard push of the day as my gluts and quads were screaming. About 50 yards from the peak/high point, Tom slowed down so I could catch up with him. He congratulated me on a great first ultra and told me he wasn’t going to push the downhill coaxing me to push as hard as I could the rest of the way home. Stand up guy through and through.

As I turned the corner to go down, I could immediately feel that my quads were wrecked and I couldn’t bomb this section like I had hoped. It was a challenge to keep the wheels on all the way down to the Black Cloud aid station. It was a muddy and technical section and I almost went straight into a mud bog as I took a bad step, but I recovered quickly. It was right after that when the hail started. The tiny little pellets at my back, neck and exposed arms were never a problem, only a nuisance and it only lasted about 5 minutes.

The biggest struggle for me in this section was expecting the aid station any second, but it just never felt like it was going to come. I finally ran into the aid station and was greeted by about 8 race crew members. They asked me what I needed and I said, “Nothing …I just want to stop for a few seconds”. I walked a few steps, cleared out all my trash and grabbed a gel, which I threw back down my gullet. Time to tackle the final 7 miles.

Actual Time – 6hrs 23mins

Black Cloud to the Finish (HOME) ~

I knew the next 7 miles were going to be a struggle because the descent slowly eased up and my legs were slowly losing the ability to pick up, which caused more of a shuffle. With about 6 miles to go, I somehow got a rock stuck in my sock down against my big toe. I struggled with that for about 2 miles and couldn’t get it out. I couldn’t bring myself to sit down and get it out worried I might not be able to get back up and get my muscles firing again. I finally noticed a new pain in the tendon along the top of my big toe running up my foot towards my shin. This pain out weighed the pain of the rock and I quickly stopped worrying about the one pain and focused on the other. Each mile ticked down very slowly and for the first time I was CLEARLY aware of the distance I had run and how many more miles I had left. I was alone the entire last seven miles and was hungry for company and to see someone …anyone. I rounded one of the corners, which was manned by the Ken Chlouber (Founder of the LT100) telling me there were women waiting for me at the finish. I laughed and said, “I thought this was the finish line”.

After the laughs were done, I made the final push home. Much to my delight, it started to lightly rain as I crested the top of Dutch Henry, which I saw over 7 hours earlier. I heard the cheers of my family and friends below not knowing what they were saying, just encouraged by their cheers. I rounded the corner and headed down a steep hill to see my daughter first, then AJ, then my happy wife and friends Heidi and kids. I raised my hands up high with pride, joy, relief and satisfaction. Coming out of the finishing chute I was first greeted by AJ with a hug …something AJ swore he’d never do and did. I was a rookie and was very pleased with my debut performance. I finished in 6th place overall and 1st place in my age group and crushed my original goals. I started the day with anxiety and ended the day with a gratitude for the love and support of my family, friends, fellow racers and especially for my health. This is a day that I will never forget.

              Actual – 7hrs 29mins – 6th place overall – 1st place in Masters Age Group

With rain coming down, I was relieved to see family and friends

Officially done and ready for my award and to just sit down

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Crew Report

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was supposed to be running this race with my friends. Instead, I was forced to join them as crew while they took on the Leadville Silver Rush 50. The four runners I crewed were Mike, Jon, Chuck, and Steve.

Left to right: Mike, Jon, Chuck and Steve crewing me
Mike is the newest member of our running crew and a laid back guy. While he has run his share of quality road races, Mike seems to have found a new home running on the trails. His wife was actually in Leadville to crew for him, but I hoped I could assist him in some way on his first 50 mile attempt. It was a fun to hang with his family the entire weekend. It made me remember how great it is to have the support of your loved ones on a venture like this.

Jon is a long time running friend and has coached my son's soccer teams for years. He is a 3:01 marathoner and seemed motivated to do this race mostly as a new adventure as an opportunity to take a break from marathon racing. He is the most consistent runner of this group and really latched on quickly to the important parts of training specifically and nutrition.

Chuck is a colleague of mine and the most naturally talented runner of our group (a 2:42 marathoner). He spent most of the Spring training to run the Boston Marathon with a goal of 2:35 before being derailed by injury. My sense is that he enjoys the freedom and camaraderie of trail running, particularly since he has no peer among this group when doing race specific road runs! I was a bit surprised when he made some conservative decisions to back out of the Boston Marathon, calling the Silver Rush his "A race for the year".

Steve has become a very good long distance friend. We maintain pretty constant amount of communication even though he lives in Arizona. In March, I went down and ran the Old Pueblo 50 to be a part of Steve's first ultra. Due to injury, Steve wasn't able to run as well at Old Pueblo as he would have hoped. Afterward, I pushed hard to convince him to join our crew at Leadville. He also boasts a pretty stout 3:05 as a marathon PR.


We all got lost in my bike race the day before, but it was down to business right afterward. Dinner was picked specifically to prepare for the race and there was very little beer consumed. Since I was pretty wiped out from the bike race, I didn't mind a relatively chill night and an early bed time. The house was stirring with anxious runners before 4 am the next morning and I could smell the fresh brewed coffee. I jumped up and went down stairs to see how everyone was feeling. It was just your typical pre-race anxiousness. Everyone fooled around with their gear and ate breakfast as they killed time, waiting for the departure to the start line. At 5:30-sharp, we drove over the start line and I wished them luck as they jumped out of the car.  The rest of the crew continued to the top of Dutch Henry hill to watch them start their adventure.
Watching the runners from the top of Dutch Henry

After some pre-race chatter from the race director and the National Anthem, they were off up the hill and past us. We immediately took off to the Printer Boy aid station where we would for nearly 2 hours before seeing Chuck come through.

Chuck was all smiles before his epic day

Jon looking business like
My daughter and crew member extraordinaire, Savannah, and I waited at Printer Boy anxiously for the guys. She and I reminisced about my 2011 adventure on this course while she showed me all of the bug bites she had acquired crewing me at the MTB race the day before. It was also a good time for us to chat with Mike and Chuck's wives and for me to tell them all the things I think I know about this race. I remembered being hot at this stage in the race in 2011, but it was overcast and down right cold right now.

A few days before the race, Chuck and I discussed his pacing strategy and I told him that a relatively safe bet was to take his marathon PR and multiply that by three, which gave us a target of around 8 hours for him, but that he'd have to have guts to go for it since he hasn't been able to train the way he'd like up until the last six weeks. He made a pace "band" with several splits and, just like he always does, he came in on the aggressive side of his pace band. He was a little less than two hours to this station and running in fourth place. When I told him he was in fourth place, he seemed surprised and it stoked his already hot competitive fire. It was a relatively quick stop and he was off down into the forest. I wasn't too concerned with his fast-ish split until the defending champion of the event came in 5 minutes later.

Savannah and I waiting for Chuck
Slim Shady barely breaking stride out of Printer Boy

Somehow I remembered my 2011 split into Printer Boy being two and a half hours (it was actually 2:45) and I assumed the rest of the guys would better that time. Thus, I was expecting them around 2:15 or 2:20 and it was a long wait until they arrived in 2:30 (which turned out to be the perfect split for them).  They came in holding hands to tease me and all in really good spirits.

Crew rookie me dropping Mike's water bottle
All smiles as they rolled into together
Down into the forest they go
After a slightly slower stop than Chuck, they all left down hill in good spirits ready to tackle the toughest part of the course -- the toughest part in my opinion anyway. Savannah and I jumped in the car and hurried down to catch them crossing California Gulch for another quick photo. (Mike stopped to take a rock out of his shoe so he was not in this photo).

Crossing over and headed for the dreaded miles 16-18
Savannah and I had planned to go into town and get coffee to warm us up. But Chuck asked us to head back to the house and get him a second Garmin. We ultimately bailed on the coffee shop knowing that Chuck was running fast. Plus, the parking at Stumptown is not ideal and we wanted to get their early for a decent spot that didn't require us to hike half a mile.

After we arrived we stood around and chatted, the sun had finally come out and it was becoming quite warm. The mosquitos were biting and we all applied sun screen and bug repellent. Thinking Chuck was going to be on pace for an even split 8 hour run, I expected him at about 10 am. Instead, he showed up at 9:30, only about 15 minutes behind the leader and still tied for fourth place. He ran up to the aid station and came back down to where we were. The first thing he did was complain, saying that "this is hard" and that he wasn't eating. I responded by telling him that he was going too fast and being irresponsible. I honestly felt he was going to blow up at some stage, particularly if he couldn't take in some calories. He basically refused all of our aid attempts but an energy drink and took off.

Chuck looking a little gassed only half way done
A Bing energy drink, the only relief he'd take
Heading out to see what he has left in the tank
Chuck left us and a few things became apparent: 1) we'd be chasing him all day and 2) the gap between him and the other guys was growing large. I tried not to worry Chuck's wife too much, but I was truly worried that Chuck was going to have some tough moments in the second half. We discussed strategies on splitting up so we could continue to crew both Chuck and the other guys. I told Jen that she would have to leave to go meet Chuck no later than 10:45, figuring he could be back at Printer Boy by 11:15. Fortunately, the other guys came rolling in starting around 10:20 am. Steve came in first and he looked strong and in control. He threw his sunglasses on the ground and Heidi accidentally stepped on them. I offered him my sunglasses, but he insisted that they were just bugging him anyway. Like Chuck, he didn't seem to need much aid, just a pep talk and he was off.

Steve polishing off his water as he arrived

Mountain man ready for a second half battle
Just a few minutes after Steve, Mike came rolling in and looked strong and in control. One funny thing that continued to happen all day was that Mike had a very similar looking runner about 5 or 10 minutes in front of him.  We were consistently fooled by this "doppleganger" until Heidi took control at Printer Boy. We gave Mike some food and water and applied some screen. He chatted briefly with his family before taking off.
Mike rolling into Stumptown

Mike had lots of support
Pouring cold water on Mike to cool him off
And just a few minutes later Jon came into Stumptown. His light-hearted nature from just a few hours earlier had disappeared. I know as well as anyone that the turn back out of Stumptown is always a little low, but Jon was also experiencing cramps in his calves that started along that dreaded climb during miles 17 and 18. That is one of the things that seems to be consistent when things aren't going well for him, so I grew a little concerned that it might have long lasting effects on his race. We put some screen on him and we chatted a bit about Chuck. Like me, I don't think he could decide if he should be impressed or worried about Chuck. He reported that they saw Chuck coming back up Ball Mountain, now in seventh place, and seemed to be struggling.

Jon trying to out run this Ford into Stumptown.
Looking toward Ball Mountain as we discussed Chuck's race
All in all in good spirits despite the cramps
At this point in the race, I thought thing were pretty much on target other than Chuck being so far out in front. Even with that, I couldn't tell if he was going to destroy this race or have a melt down, obviously hoping for the former. The other guys were all pretty much on target. Both Mike and Jon seemed to be grinding a bit to me. Steve just seemed solid and happy to be right here in the moment. They later explained that Steve was really hiking well and that seemed to be where his gap was opening. That made sense to me because he had  really emphasized hiking during his training. And, being from Arizona, this bit of exposed sunshine was likely to impact him the least. After they all left Stumptown, we took off quickly to try and beat Chuck back to Printer Boy.

We arrived at Printer Boy just as the second place runner was coming through. He is a local Leadville guy and a Leadman participant. Unfortunately, he would eventually finish in 3rd place. Within ten minutes, we saw Chuck's bright yellow shirt coming up the forest. It was about 11:15 and I no longer wondered whether this was the right strategy -- he was killing this race and in prime position to go for it. He was in 6th place, where he would remain for the remainder of the day. I offered him sunscreen and food. He would accept only a few gels and some fluids, choosing to drop all of his solid food. As he took off, I reminded him that the next 4 miles were the only hard miles remaining and to grind hard.

Returning uphill via the forest
Looking like a veteran as he emerged into Printer Boy
After Chuck left, Jen took both our daughters back to town for lunch. In our haste to chase four runners around, we hadn't been able to eat any real food! Heidi came in to wait for Mike and we just cheered on other runners as we waited for the guys to come in. The first one to come in was Steve, continuing on his theme of strong and in control for the day. Like Chuck, he chose to dump some food and even his entire pack. He took the bare minimum essentials and head on up the final climb. He had arrived in 6.5 hours and seemed dead on splits for a 9-hour finish. I offered him some sun screen, but he declined and informed me that every time he got close to 12,000 feet he was cold and using his arm sleeves.

All smiles and running strong
I was so happy for Steve to be having such a good race
Go uphill young man....
Before I saw either Mike or Jon, I received a text from Jon that said he was feeling better, but that I didn't need to wait for him before heading to the finish line. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that. I knew he didn't need anything from me as he carried a full pack of food all day, but I also wanted to be there to support him. I was worried that he was struggling badly and texted him back. He reported that he was starting to feel better and only a few minutes away. Relieved, I decided to stay and wait. It was about 12:40 and I guessed the earliest Chuck would finish was around 1:15 pm. In the meantime, Mike came rolling into Printer Boy. In an effort to distinguish him from his doppleganger, Heidi sent the kids down into the forest to run up with Mike. When we saw his son's bright orange shirt running up to the aid station we knew it was actually him. He reported that he wasn't feeling super hot, but he was still on pace for a terrific race and seemed in good spirits.
Coming up to the aid station with his kids
Still smiles despite hurting a bit
Three minutes after Mike, Jon came up the hill looking a little frustrated, but determined. He explained that pulling down his calf sleeves had eased the cramping and that he was eating bananas and oranges like crazy. In fact, he ran over to the aid station and crammed his face full of both. I once again gave him the status report all the other runners.
Determined and improving
Continuing to assault his stomach with potassium
Seeing Jon take off, our crewing was done. Now all we could do was head to the finish line and wait. We headed straight down and arrived shortly after 1 pm, when it began to rain on our long wait. Standing in the rain, the leaders began to trickle in to the finish line, usually separated by several minutes.  Finally, Chuck came into sight running along the crest of Dutch Henry just a little before 1:30. I told his daughter to wait for him and run into the finish. We started screaming his name from the bottom of the hill so he could hear us and the race announcer made a funny quip about "Chuck Radford's Cheering Squad" bringing him home.

Crazy talented and gutsy runner taking 6th place in his first ultra
As soon as Chuck arrived, it began to pour rain and we ducked into a picnic tent for shelter. At first, he was enjoying the cool rain. The joy of rain soon turned to freezing cold and he headed home to shower so he could get back to the finish line to see the others. The sun emerged back out and we all headed out from shelter to await the next runner. A little after 3 pm, Jon texted me that he had passed Mike and should be in within 20 - 25 minutes. That meant he hadn't passed Steve and we should see him soon. Sure enough, we saw Steve across the top of Dutch Henry and shouted his name for him to hear.

He waited 4 months for an opportunity to prove he was a good ultra runner
Twenty minutes later Jon came across the top of Dutch Henry and began pushing down the hill to try and break 9:30. In the process, he tripped and nearly put on a show for the entire crowd gathered to watch the finish line. He pulled out of it and finished in a dead sprint, later telling me that he had eaten nearly a thousand calories on the climb toward Iowa Amphitheater in an effort to finish strong. While I didn't teach him that, I was so proud to hear it because I have used that same trick myself.

Finished strong after a "Calorie Hail Mary"
Jon explained that Mike seemed to be struggling when he saw him, so our attention turned to worry as we awaited Mike. All of us wanted to see him at least break 10 hours, if not rally and finish strong. He indeed came into the finish before 4 pm, joined by his cute daughter. I hope he knows that her smile was worth the whole 10 hours! I have had my share of struggles in ultras, but I always remember what a joy it is to have my family come out and support me. I had been hanging out with them all day and could tell that they enjoyed supporting him immensely.

Persevered a tough last 10 miles to finish in solid sub-10 debut
After an hour of hanging out, eating, and recovering, we headed back into town for beer and a post race celebration. I don't know if any of these guys will run another 50 -- or maybe a 100? -- but they certainly should. It was a great weekend to be with good friend and talented runners. The memories will long out weigh results. Thanks guys! I learned a lot being a member of your crew.