Monday, September 28, 2015

Bear Chase 50k - Race Report

My employer sponsors a run club and each year we get a small amount of money to be put toward race fees if we participate in the club. I chose to have my fees put toward the Bear Chase 50k this year as an opportunity to break-up my last month of training for the year and prepare for my upcoming Javelina Jundred (100k). I did a bit of specific work to prepare, but mostly just logged some miles and did a mini-taper (a few days) heading into the race. It was apparent the day was going to get hot, which is good because Javelina will likely be warm as well. I typically handle the heat pretty well, but it still impacts race performance!

Since I carpooled with my buddy Woody, I picked up both our bibs on Friday and we enjoyed a leisure morning arriving at the race by 6:45 am (7:30 start) and just milled round as we waited for the start. I had my typical breakfast (a few eggs before leaving the house and an Epic Bar at the start line) before taking some Vespa thirty minutes before the start. I lathered in some sun screen and got myself ready to go.

Note that they changed the location of the start/finish area due to the flooding this Spring, so my description of some of the miles may not match previous year's events.

First Lap (Blue Course)

Part of what made the Bear Chase appealing as a tune-up for JJ is the loops the course uses. Of course, no one enjoys a loop course, but it does offer some advantages in terms of logistics on race day. Bear Chase sends the 50k runners out later than the 100k and 50m runners and on their shorter (10k) course to start. In doing some pre-race analysis, I thought I could run 4:45 and was considering going out at 9:15 pace and then seeing how it felt after a few miles. Well, as soon as we started, I threw that out the window and was running close to 8:15 pace right out of the gate. Had it not been for Mt Carbon, my first mile likely would have been near 8-flat.

The first lap went by pretty quickly and easily, with only a little bit of vertical gain after the Mt Carbon climb. I knew I was in the top 10 runners but had no idea where inside the top 10. I drank water only as I attempted to allow my gut to settle in and get my aerobic/fat-burning engine going. Toward the end of the first lap, two runners passed me, the only two that would pass me all day. I came into start/finish area in good spirits and topped off water before grabbing some Tailwind out of my drop bag. I felt pretty juiced and ready to see what the day had in store.

Second Lap (Orange Course)

Leaving for the second loop, my average pace was around 8:40 and I knew I had put myself out there. The only choice now was to go for it and see how long I could hold on. Though the field was still pretty sparse, I was now coming up on some 50m runners and it became difficult to know who I was encountering along the course. The next trip up Mt Carbon was a real burner and I got my HR deep into Zone 5, pretty much putting me on notice that my third trip up was going to involve some hiking.

During mile 10, we split off to go out around the Fox Hollow Golf Course and some pretty enjoyable miles, including 3 water crossings. I had mixed my Tailwind too thick (200 Kcals in a single bottle) and was using every aid station as a chance to top off my bottle and water it down. But, it was pretty clear today was a water-only kind of day after this first bottle -- the effort level and the heat were not conducive to taking in Kcals. I was in a pretty good groove until we start running on the trail along Morrison Rd, where it became clear I was red lining myself and the second half of the race was going to hurt. There are several short, steep climbs along this section that really take the steam out of you. Most of them were just steep enough to want to hike, but short enough to not want to hike. I chose hiking, mostly.

I came through the start/finish area once again and took only water and another serving of Vespa. This time I was a bit less enthused as I left, really wanting to get the final Mt Carbon climb over with.

Final Lap (Orange Course)

I ran pretty well until Mt Carbon and then I hiked the entire .3 mile segment, too much burn in the legs to run it a third time. The descent and miles along Fox Hollow treated me well, including 30 sec stops in each water crossing to drench my shirt and legs. By mile 24, I was hurting bad and wondering how I was going to run for another hour. I started trying to figure out what my finish time would be if I averaged 10 minute miles. My legs were so dead the miles felt like 10 - 10:30 pace, but I managed to fight through and put in a couple more sub-9s, including walking all the steep hills in this section. During the 27th mile, I could see both runners ahead that had passed me. I would gain on them and then they'd put ground on me. There just wasn't enough gas left in the tank to catch them and I began wondering if I might get caught, so I promised myself I wouldn't walk a step -- show no weakness!

After doing a mini-out-and-back segment to the park entrance and we turned back toward the start/finish area for the last time, I became relieved knowing it would be over soon and that I was likely in fine shape to finish well and without being caught. I crossed the line in 4:33, 9th place overall and 2nd in my AG. A pretty stout 2 hour improvement on my 50K PR (though that race had 8400 feet of vert!).

I will say that I was really impressed with the management of this race. The start/finish area, while not their typical one, was great and very easy to work with aid and drop bags. The timing, bibs, busing, everything went smooth. As is typical for me, I found the trail harder than I expected, namely some reasonably technical section that left my ankles a bit stiff the next few days and some sandy sections that were tough to get great traction in. And, a fair amount of the track was narrow biking track. None of that is bad, just things to note if you ever plan to do the race. For a guy that likes to do lots of vertical, this race presented a real challenge because it was so runnable. The consistency of running for that long is not something I do often (without hiking).

I spent the remainder of the day on the couch, totally wrecked and experiencing some issues from the heat and dehydration. I've bounced back pretty good at this stage and feel good to continue training for JJ, if I can muster up the motivation!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Training Update

Well, I've run 900 miles and 110K of vertical since my last training update; I guess I am a bit over due. I have intentionally treated the second half of this year a bit differently than the first, where I had a very detailed plan for how I would attack Western States 100. Even if it was somewhat unguided, I have been training. I guess you could say I have training OCD. A kinder thing to say is that I just love the rhythm of training and don't believe in showing up for an event less than fully prepared. In any case, I trained without much of a plan for July and August, choosing to take advantage of opportunities to run with friends and try to enjoy the summer with my family. When September rolled around, I got serious about putting together a mini-training cycle to prepare for my final race of the season, Javelina Jundred (100k). In addition to that, I added a tune-up race in the Bear Chase 50k this weekend. For this weekend, I have thought about some goals, I honestly don't know what to expect. It will be the "easiest" 50k that I've run so I don't really know how much or how fast I can run... we'll see.

The two things that stand out from training since Western States is a bit more focus on quality (with a bit less quantity) and a bit less vertical gain. I still get out to the mountain trails on occasion, but I am definitely keeping my focus on "runnable" terrain since both of my upcoming races fit into that category. Additionally, I have had a slight uptick in my cross training sessions. I'd like to get into the gym three days a week over the winter, but I am happy with 1 or 2 days a week right now. Barring a setback, I am on pace for personal bests in both distance and vertical gain this year. My body has held up well, but I do plan to ease off the gas quite a bit after JJ.

And, lastly, I have thought a bit about 2016 races and have a few things in my mind. It will once again come down to lotteries (maybe not lotteries for my own races, however!).  I hope to have that all nailed down by year end.

Topo Athletic Shoes

Several years ago, I ran the San Juan Solstice 50 and my feet to a pounding in an original pair of Brooks PureGrit. I was training for the Leadville 100, my first 100, and became quite concerned about my feet. So, I posted in a forum for Leadville runners inquiring about shoes and someone suggested Altra Lone Peak. It was the first time I'd heard of Altra. Concerned about transitioning to zero drop, I didn't go to Altra right away but eventually got a pair of Altra Instinct on sale and decided to give them a try. That pair of shoes changed everything for me. I fell in love with a simple shoe that I could wear all day in total comfort -- no squished toes, durable outsole, great for cross-training, etc... They were ugly, but I loved them. I became an Altra junkie and have now run more than five thousand miles in their shoes. However, it is no secret that I've had issue with Altra along the way. Altra seems to have lost their way to me, preferring to compete with the likes of Hoka instead of staying true to the original things that made their shoes great. Worse, they seem to constantly rush cheap shoes to market, willing to let the consumer pay more than $100 for shoes they know aren't holding up. The trouble is that very few shoe manufacturers make a serious wide-toe shoe these days. Even wide-model shoes fall well short of allowing my big feet the room Altra gave me. I searched for months until I came across Topo, named for Tony Post, the former CEO of Vibram.

As an REI member, I don't know how I didn't come across Topo Athletic sooner. After I discovered the brand, I did a little initial research and bought a pair of Topo Runduro. The Runduro appeared to be a perfect replacement for the original Altra Instinct I loved so much -- firm sole, low drop, good road feel, light weight, a true wide toebox, and an everyday trainer. The Runduro are on my feet nearly all day now, including gym work, walking and all my "hang out" time. I've worn them for runs between 5 and 13 miles without issues. With 100 running miles on them (and dozens more hours of wear), they appear to be a high quality shoe, hardly showing any wear. I think enough of them that I've already ordered a second pair. This looks like a perfect choice for me, and I've begun converting my friends, many of them I brought with me to Altra. I am so happy to have a simple, comfortable, natural, all around shoe again.

In addition to the Runduro, I took a dive into their trail lineup with a pair of the MT. They fit much like a "trail version" of the Runduro, which is exactly what I wanted. (That was another thing I couldn't figure out with Altra, why they had so much diversity in the lasts and things in their shoes. Build a great shoe, then throw some lugs and trail specific feature on and call it a trail model.) The MT are light, minimally cushioned and have no added protection. I took them out for a trail marathon along the Colorado Trail right out of the box. That proved to be a bit of a mistake due to the lack of protection on such a technical trail, but I loved everything else about them, in particular the weight and the fit. I knew the Runventure were a better choice for technical trail, but I have plenty of shoes currently in my line up for that. Anyway, I don't have much experience with the MT yet, but stay tuned as I get them out on the trail more and see how they hold up.

I am very happy to have found a replacement for Altra, though I will continue to try their products in hopes that they will revert to making shoes like they used to. I have very high hopes for Topo and plan to buy several more models in the near future.