Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Western States 100 Race Report

Incredible to be crossing that finish line. Overwhelming.

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

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


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

With my crew/pacers on Thursday.

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

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

Chuck and Mike all smiles before heading uphill!

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

High Country (Start to Dusty Corners)

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

Climbing the Escarpment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Canyons (Dusty Corners to Foresthill)

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

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

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

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

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

Arriving at Michigan Bluff and looking for my crew.

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

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

Rolling into Foresthill with Chuck

Cal St (Foresthill to the river)

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

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

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

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

Crossing the river at night demands attention!

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

The Finish (River to Auburn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My reward for a hard day's work

Monday, June 29, 2015

Western States 100 - What Worked

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


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

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

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

Heat Training and Cooling Off

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Western States Taper

Well, I made it. The meat of training is over and I am still standing, wobbling a bit, but still standing. I do three week tapers, which means the first week is more of a cutback week than a true taper. There are still a few key runs to go! Nonetheless, the most important thing from this point forward is to emphasize rest and be conservative when in doubt. Taper marks a key psychological moment for me: the end of the grind and the beginning of the pre-race jitters.

As I analyze my training the past twenty-two weeks, the first thing I have to say is that I have a great family and friends. This crazy hobby of mine would go nowhere without a wife and family that supports me. It isn't always easy, but they are great about it. And, I am really lucky that my buddies see me through on these big weekends. Chuck has been with me through all my hundreds and virtually all my training, he's a rock and a great friend. Jon has been through his share of runs and running conversations with me, providing feedback to all of my ideas. Mike, Wyatt, and John have been great supporters and joined my group runs to push me through. Steve is always my best cheerleader, even from Arizona. And my sister, this will be her third time as my crew chief. Hopefully she gets to pace a few miles this time around too. I am a truly lucky guy.

The one thing that stands out about this training cycle is execution. The amount of thought and preparation that I put into training for this race is unparalleled, even for me. I have measured everything (heart rate, diet, nutrition, sleep, cross training, etc...) and been quite disciplined about my approach. I met (or exceeded) every one of my training goals. There were no major setbacks, but a few cases where I exercised caution and backed off. My mental toughness has had to be at an all-time high to work through a wet and snowy Spring. So many memories, most of them involving crazy rain or blizzard like snow. There just isn't really any reason to be dissatisfied with training. Will it culminate in a Silver Buckle? I don't know. But, that's just the nature of the beast. Months of preparation are no guarantee of results. You have to appreciate the journey and the fact that you have a body that can absorb the training week after week. I often compare training to the space shuttle taking off -- bolts rattling and things on the brink of disaster at any moment. It is a fine line we walk when we push the limits of our bodies.

Here are a few highlights that I covered in training:
- My first ever back-to-back-to-back run.
- Three high quality long-long runs (5+ hours)
- Four night runs, three on technical trail
- Five good weekends of back-to-backs with either good volume, good vert, or both
- Average weekly volume was 60 miles and about 10 hours
- Seven weeks of 70 miles
- Seven (so far, hoping for 15+) sauna sessions to prepare for the heat

This is the most prepared my body has ever been for the challenge. Unless something unforeseen goes wrong (always a strong possibility in 100s), my race will likely come down to how well I handle fatigue and how deep I can dig in the final 50 miles. It all comes down to how I manage my mind and execute on race day. Scary and satisfying at the same time. I was a hustler at Leadville. I never let anything bring my attitude down or settle for any result other than moving as quickly as I could at that moment. Then, I nearly threw in the towel at Bear and walked the final 30 miles without putting up a fight. Soon I get to test my mental strength again....

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dirty 30 Race Report

As I pieced together a Western States 100 training plan for the Spring, I didn't initially sign up for any tune-up races. I sort of didn't want the distraction of another race nor the temptation to go too hard leading up to the main event. After a bit, I got antsy and decided to enter the D30. There are some specific elements about it for WS100 (a bit of heat, serious mountain climbs) but also some elements that just aren't very specific, namely highly technical trail. Nonetheless, it fit well into my calendar and I signed up.

Leading up to the race, I tried not to think much about it. I didn't do any planning really and just thought of it as a chance to test out my race day plan for WS100 -- gear and nutrition namely. As race week approached, the one big negative that came into view was how early we'd have to get up there. Parking is extremely limited, so we left home at 3:45 AM to be there by 5 AM. That was the other big negative, hanging around for 2 hours before the race started! For breakfast I had two Epic Bars and some Vespa, then the guys and I just hung out, chatted and waited.

As you read on, one thing to note is that some of the details are a bit blurry, particularly mileages. I used 5-second recording on my watch, which is typically a little long on distance. And, I think some of their mileage markers may not have been updated from the 2013 course, which was a mile shorter. So, I had a difficult time all day reconciling exactly where I was at. Though, when it was over, my watch said 32.42 miles and the official distance is 32.1, so I think my watch was closer than their mile markers...

Start to Aid #1 (Mile 5-ish)

Being that I didn't taper, know much about the course, or have a real plan, I invoked my "B race" strategy which is to go out slow and just try to get stronger as the day moved along. After they started the fast guys off, I jumped into the next wave and began an easy jog up the parking lot, chatting with Chris Boyack. I knew Chris wasn't expecting to go hard, so I sort of hoped we'd run together for a while (like miles and miles). But, I had an iPod in and the course soon changed to a conga line of single track. Chris was there, but we didn't chat much.

The course follows along Deer Creek for several miles with many crossings (almost all over bridges). However, the run off from all the May rain was evident in mud all along this section. I probably wasted too much energy trying to avoid the mud, but you never really know how much more is coming, figuring you may as well try to keep your shoes clean. Just a few miles in, John Witcher passed, which kind of surprised me because I didn't think he was planning to push it. Then within a few miles dozens of people were passing me. I was a bit annoyed by this, but figured I'd pass many of them again down the trail.

Before hitting the aid station, there was a short, technical descent and I went slow and easy. I could feel the runners behind me getting impatient, but pounding down wasn't part of my plan. When we pulled up to the first aid station, I discovered Chris was right behind me! Neeraj was manning this aid station and was super helpful getting me refilled and on my way.

Aid #1 to Aid #2 (Mile 12-ish)

Leaving aid, I really had to pee and I was feeling hungry. So, I stopped and took care of both. (I ate a Lara Pineapple Coconut bar, delicious!!!). I started the day with my water bottles full of Skratch Labs. While the course served Tailwind -- which I like, and is very much like Skratch -- I really figured I'd switch to water later because it was going to be pretty warm. I don't like sugar in my drinks on warm days.... I had Neeraj give me water only at my first aid stop.

Anyway, the course goes up a nice double track road through here before hitting some very plush, technical single track as you wind around Tremont Mountain. I was once again hungry and stopped to eat, finding, once again, that Chris was right behind me!  We chatted again briefly before we started climbing. Along the climb, I worked reasonably hard and caught a few groups of runners here and there. I mostly just hung with the groups that I'd catch because it was too hard to pass and I wasn't interested in running fast at this stage. Once in a while I'd pass a weaker runner or a good descender would pass me.

The final mile into aid was a nice double track descent that was very runnable and I logged one my only sub-10 min miles of the day. I once again got water and didn't waste much time at aid. There would be no more sugar water the rest of the day, just gels, mostly.

Aid #2 to Aid #3 (Mile 17-ish)

Not long after leaving aid #2, the course got incredibly hard with a steep, bouldered ascent. The descent was even worse because it was so technical that it was tough to run. This is when I started suspecting that 6:30 was out of my pay grade today, time was just slipping away quickly. We finally came to a course junction with two-way traffic and I saw the leaders coming back around (I was about mile 14 and they were like 19, crazy!!!). This loop got a bit less technical for a bit and I picked up the pace and continued picking off runners, slowly. Then the course got super technical again and I slowed way down. Again, not being able to really run downhill was the toughest part mentally. Footing was rough and the trail was covered with other runners and day-hikers. It was an accident waiting to happen. I felt like I was just sort of "jumping" down the trail with all the rocks and roots, etc.. Very tough. Despite how tough it was, I could tell I was making up ground on some runners.

I finally reached a short and out and back section to aid #3, where I saw John Witcher coming back up at me. At aid, I got a handheld full of water and ice that I mixed with Bio Steele. I also dumped all my trash and had my final Vespa packet before heading back out. Chris was once again right with me, but as I passed him leaving. I could tell he wasn't feeling right. He wished me well as I passed him on the climb out.

A couple of other themes for the day: one was traffic. This race has gotten big and included several waves of runners (a slow start wave, then waves by estimated finish time, then 12 milers). The result was that I never knew who I was passing -- a slow start 50k runner or a 50k runner that passed me in the first few miles. The other issue was that combining 500+ runners with normal State Park foot traffic, there were people all over the course. In addition to navigating rocks and roots, there was lots of other people (and dogs) to contend with.

Aid #3 to Aid #4 (mile 25-ish)

Leaving the aid station is a long, steady, but mostly "grindable" climb. I first caught Chris and many  of the runners that had been around me for the first half of the race. Rather than simply walk, I was grinding with short sections of running followed by aggressive hiking. About mile 18, I caught John and a few other runners. We stayed pretty close together for the next mile where I noted we had gone 19 miles and over 5K of vert to this point. INSANE. The remaining course in this section was kind of rolling with long stretches of runnable downhill and a few miles grinding, technical climbing. It went on forever and was quite exposed in sections. I started running out of gels and water and grew frustrated with the distance between aid here. (It was only about and hour and forty minutes between aid stops, but it was such a critical point in the race and quite warm.)

I finally pulled into aid where Neeraj was once again. He took both my water bottles and filled them. Then he gave me a blue popsicle, which was amazing! I finished with a cup of Mountain Dew before cruising out of aid feeling good.

Aid #4 to Aid #5 (mile 29-ish)

Having volunteered at this race last year, I thought I knew what to expect -- I figured were only a mile or so to the Windy Peak loop. It went on longer than I expected and include some mildly grinding climbing before finally heading out to Windy Peak. We finally turned left, arriving on the loop that would eventually take us to Windy Peak and there was a wave of people coming at me, returning from Windy Peak and ready to finish. The descent into the valley wasn't too bad and I remembered this section quite well from my volunteer duty last year (I was a course Marshall at this Junction). It was once again muddy as we got low and I passed a few runners that were losing steam. Then we turned left again, getting off the loop and heading up to Windy Peak. I was grinding hard on this climb and passed a half dozen runners just hiking. It was hot (one of the few pure sunshine days in this crazy Spring) and I was suffering quite a bit. However, I just continued to push as hard as I could, motivated to pass people and still hoping to break 7 hours.

I expected the out and back section to Windy Peak to be a quick little tag of the summit and back. Instead, it was over a mile round trip. And, once again, the course was quite technical and I just had to grind. At least half the runners coming back at me where the back-of-the-pack 12 milers (they started at 10 am, I think). John's buddy Barrett came back at me near the summit. When I reached the summit, instead of taking in the view, I turned around quickly to tried catch Barrett (who did break 7 hours). The technical descent was tough and I had a few toe-stubs, but kept on my feet as I was trying not go get passed back by runners from behind.

After completing the out and back section, I got back on the loop and the Marshall told me it was 1.5 miles to aid. I ran pretty hard down this technical, hoping not to get passed. Once I arrived at aid, I stopped for a Mountain Dew with ice and quickly chugged that before taking off quickly. The aid station folks told me 1.8 miles to the finish.

Aid #5 to Finish 

I wasn't quite sure if believed the 1.8 miles to finish, but I decided I had 2 hard miles left in me. I soon caught another runner and a nasty little uphill section that leads to the course junction I had marshalled last year. I pushed hard and never really slowed down much. I remember people really complaining about that hill last year, but it didn't seem that bad to me. After the course junction, the course goes downhill and I remember instructing runners the prior year that it was "all downhill". Well, that's not true! In fact, only a quarter mile after leaving aid is a nasty uphill. I passed a few runners and didn't want to get passed back, so I ran the entire climb, nearly putting my HR into Zone 4. Then a bit of downhill, then another small uphill! Holy cow. Finally the course turned downhill and mostly non-technical and I jogged in, averaging a 10 min mile the last 4 miles. Ooph.

Afterwards, we ate and hung out. We had to wait for the award ceremony (Chuck was 2nd Masters) and it didn't start until 3:45 pm. The awards ceremony was ridiculously drawn out, in my opinion. It was already a long day on a course that is tucked way back in the middle of nowhere. An hour long award ceremony was hard to sit through at that stage. I think others agreed as at least one-third of the AG finishers had just gone home.

I was certainly disappointed with my finish time, but the rest of the experience was pretty positive. I executed my strategy really well and ended up with identical splits for each quarter of the race -- perfectly paced. My nutrition was good, not great. My gear worked well overall, but I did chafe just a bit on my back. My new shoes (Olympus 1.5) are getting close to being broken in and ready for WS100 duty. So, I got the simulation I was looking for even if it didn't go down quite how I had hoped. Most importantly, my body doesn't feel destroyed and I can continue training this week as I wind down the final grinding weeks. It was certainly humbling to be on the course with some of the best mountain runners in the world, but I know a course like that doesn't suit my strengths.

Update: Based on split data, I moved up from 246th position at aid #1 to 122nd to end, 124 places during the race. Each aid station split in the second half of the race was in the top 85 of all runners and my aggregate second half split was in the top 75.