23 April 2014

Gettin' my Mojo Back

"The life you are meant to find will wring your heart to the point of breaking 
and then douse you with buckets of joy when you're not looking."
- Linford Detweiler
Selfie on the Falcon Trail
After three months of struggling to get back to where I left off last fall, I feel like I've finally turned a corner. The past 10 days or so, I've had some really great runs and have started turning in some PRs. I can see where my speed is improving ever-so-slightly as I push the pace on some of my shorter runs and was very encouraged to see that I can run 50 miles with just a marathon training run three week earlier.

Now that I'm recovered from the Rockin' K, my focus has been increasing my vertical. With my right Achilles still a bit sore, I'm trying to do this gradually and give it a day of rest in between hilly runs. I've been getting out to Mt Falcon up in Denver where I can get 3k of vert in 13 miles. The trails are dry out there and weather has been amazing, around 60-70 degrees. Ran into photographer/filmmaker Matt Trappe today, who did a great job documenting Scott Jaime's FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the 486 mile Colorado Trail last year. Check out the trailers here and here. I met Matt at Salida and will see again at Quad in a couple of weeks. He preparing for his first hundo at Bighorn and I'm sure he's gonna do great.  

Some snaps from my runs at Mt. Falcon:
Looking north toward Red Rocks
Looking south on the long climb up
Downtown Denver is off in the distance
Parmalee Trail take 1
Parmalee Trail take 2
The other place I go to for some vertical is Pikes Peak. For the steep climbing, I start at the Manitou Incline and catch the Barr Trail to either go back down or go further up the mountain. I managed to PR going up the Incline by two minutes (my first time this year!) and snagged a 3 minute PR going back down the Barr. Sa-weet!
That's the false summit you see at the top
The "gut" of the Incline, where grades are around 60%
Looking back at Manitou & Colorado Springs
The other thing I'm starting to do is bring the kids to the track with me. I was hoping I could get both of them to run a couple of warm up laps before they occupied themselves otherwise. My 4YO did run a little with me but my 6YO got distracted with the hurdles and rolling a tire around. Eventually, they landed in the sand pit and played while I finished my workout.
Practicing his long jump
She ran 600 meters, woot woot!
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; 
if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” 
- Tim Keller, The Reason for God

We had a great day celebrating Jesus' Resurrection with our friends at Westside Church last Sunday and the kids had fun looking for Easter eggs at the annual potluck afterwards. We even managed to get a decent family picture too where both kids are actually smiling normally. That was a minor Easter miracle.
Lastly, just look at this lovely video from Mountain Hardware. Is it any wonder so many of us love trail running? I'm really looking forward to getting out into the San Juans for some running during Hardrock week. It's gonna be awesome.

Happy Trails,


09 April 2014

2014 Rockin' K 50 Mile

 “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” 
- Dale Carnegie
Distance: 50 miles
Elevation: 3,374 ft
Time: 12:20

Whoever thinks that a race in Kansas must be flat and easy, is in for a surprise. The best way to describe this course is relentless, runnable, rolling hills. While the climbs are not long or steep, the rollers make it challenging to get a rhythm going. There are three short, steep climbs on the Big Bluff Loop, but that’s pretty much it for power hiking.

I was excited to get out to this race and see the course for myself. I had read enough race reports to know that it would be harder than it seemed on paper. I was also a little anxious, as my last 50 miler didn't go so well. I knew that if I got pulled for missing a cutoff, it would be a serious downer for me. DNFing at the end of an exhausting, epic season of ultras is one thing; doing it at the beginning of the season is another. I did everything I knew how to keep that from happening.

The Rockin’ K course is comprised of four interconnected loops that the 50 milers run twice. Within these loops, there are numerous creek crossings of which four are at least waist deep. The course ranged from skinny singletrack, wide, rough tractor style roads, smooth dirt trails to rocky, technical sections. There were parts with sand that sucked the energy right out of your legs as well as almost non-existent trails that appeared to have been cleared with a mower or weed-wacker. We certainly didn’t lack for variety.

Sheila and I headed out to Ellsworth Friday morning and got in just in time to pick up our race packets and enjoy a spaghetti dinner there at the start line. We saw "Hawaiian Shirt" Ray, who was running it for the 6th year in the row. 
Sheila and Ray, without his trademark shirt
We camped in the campground (a first for me, prior to a race) and happened to park ourselves next to a group of Colorado runners, some of which she knew. We enjoyed hanging out around the campfire with them shooting the ultra bull before winding down for the night.

We had planned to get up and drive right over in the morning so we'd get a parking space near the start/finish line. Despite my alarm not going off and oversleeping 30 min, we still got a good spot a little after 6a. I shoveled down some oatmeal Sheila made in the jetboil and finished getting ready in the 30 degree chill. The forecast was for 30's - 60's with partly sunny skies & wind, so with a pair of gloves, arm warmers and a windbreaker I was ready to go.
Beautiful sunrise greeted us
I really enjoyed the first loop and seeing the sun come up within the first few miles. We had a conga line going for probably the first 4-5 miles before we started to break up into smaller groups. I felt great and the creek crossings weren't bad at all. I kept my feet dry for the most part. After about mile 12, if I saw someone in front of me, I was passing them. For the most part, they were marathoners with no cutoff concerns.
Flat only in the first mile or two
There's an unmanned aid station about 7.5 mile in at Gate 2, which had plenty of ice cold water and Roctane the entire day as 50 milers would pass it 4 times total on the course. The only manned aid station (other than at the start /finish/ turnaround) was at Gate 6 (mile 13/18), which we passed through 4x as well. 

Gate 6 starts the Big Bluff Loop, the only section of the course with climbs that are steep enough to hike. I really enjoyed this loop and the variety of terrain we encountered. The only problem I had was zoning out and missing a turn about a mile from the end in which it took me about a 3/4 of a mile of wandering around before I got back on track. So, I hit the aid station again (Mile 18) about 15 min later than my splits. Thankfully, I managed to gain that time back before I ran through the unmanned station again at Gate 2 (mile 20). 

After passing a few more runners in this section, I saw a runner up ahead and put her in my cross hairs. I was whispering "Imma gonna catch you...Imma gonna catch you..." for fun. When I did catch her, I met marathoner Sophia (who did the Gorge Waterfalls 50 mile last weekend) and we ran together and gabbed a bit until the water crossings. That's when she decided she'd had enough and put the hammer down. I didn't see her again until she cheered for me at the turnaround. So much for passing her!
Chasing Sophia
The two deep water crossings occur less than two miles from the turnaround point and they were waist deep. Felt so good after running in the sun and having salt caked all over me. The sandy sections afterwards weren't so fun, but they didn't last too long. I got my picture taken just after the water crossing and saw Ray and Lara (who was camping next to us) as they were starting their second loop. 

I hit the turnaround in 6:15 and knew I had to focus on not slowing down too much on the second loop. Since I ran easy the first lap, I was hopeful that I could keep running a pretty even split the second half.

The second loop seemed to go faster than the first for some reason, maybe because I was focused on hitting my splits. I pretty much ran alone except for passing a guy on my way into the Gate 6 aid station and running with a guy named Matt on the Big Bluff Loop. He'd gap me on the climbs and I'd reel him in on the descents. We got back to Gate 6 (mile 42) a few min past the cutoff, but since we were running strong and had nearly 3 hours to finish 8 miles, Elden let us go on. 
I put my head down and started pushing more on the descents and running more of the climbs. Matt was nowhere to be seen. He started closing the gap in the last 3-4 miles and that's when I pushed the hardest in the race. I finished in 12:20, a new PR for me. I was amazed that I felt good the entire time, with the exception of a blister that formed on the bottom of my left foot. Not bad, considering that I didn't take the time to change my shoes or socks all day due to concerns about cutoffs. 

Oh, I did discover two black toenails (the 4th toes) and one is definitely going to be falling off. I had no idea until after the race when I took my socks off and started to feel the bruising. I guess I need to buy my La Sportiva Wildcats a half-size larger next time. Oh well...
Matt, who pushed me in the last miles
Showing off our horseshoe metals
It was a great day of racing and the RDs, Stuart and Elden as well as the volunteers were awesome. Thanks to everyone who helped to put on such a great race. I suspect I'll be back in future years to tackle this course once again. 

As a side note, one thing I continue to see among the slower runners is that they tend to run the descents the same speed as the flats. Not sure why, as I always catch them since I'm running faster downhill. If the descent is short, I'll add some gas to speed up more, if possible. Long descents, I just let gravity pull me down and increase my turnover accordingly, so I don't use up too much energy. I'd pass fewer runners if more of them did this too, but since I like passing people, maybe I shouldn't let my secret out...

In other news... I've made some changes to my schedule, taking couple of events out in order to save money and spend more time with my family. My boy is mildly autistic and has a harder time with me being gone, even for just a day or two, so I'm going to spend a few more weekends at home this year. 

Also, I decided that since chasing cutoffs is such a rush, I might as well go after a Quad Rock 50 mile finish instead of the 25. Clarkie was thrilled that I wanted to move UP in distance, since he only gets requests to move down at this point. So the next big race is a month from now and I'll go after a PR in the Fort. After this week of recovery, it'll be time to start climbing!

Happy Trails,


31 March 2014

The Art of Race Planning

"When spring came, even the false spring, 
there were no problems except where to be happiest." 
- Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Garden of the Gods from Section 16
Oops, I did it again.

I may have let my racing enthusiasm get the best of me for the second year in a row. After taking about a month off of my monster 2013 season, I’ve been easing back into training since January. Problem is, with my season kicking off with Salida two weeks ago, I’m not quite where I need to be fitness-wise. My
achilles and hammies were sore for about a week after Salida and now that I'm recovered, I'm tapering (sigh). 

For the next few months, my races/runs are spaced 2 - 3 weeks apart, so I’m spending most weeks either tapering or recovering. It’s hard to improve my fitness when I’m stuck in that cycle. I’m also more prone not to recover well as I’m anxious to resume normal training, as I discovered after Salida.

So, I’m doing what I can to maintain my fitness and if possible, improve it when I can. Once Bighorn pacing is done (or Hardrock, if I pace there), I’ll work to improve my 50 mile fitness so I can feel better prepared for my hundo in September. Since my season will be ending in October instead of December this year, I should be in better shape when 2015 racing begins in Feb/March.

The weather's been great the past couple of weeks and the trails are drying out nicely. Got back out to Pueblo for a long run as well as Section 16 this past week: 

With my first ultra of the season coming up on Saturday. I’ve been pouring over race reports to get an idea what running in central Kansas is going to be like. I’ve been warned that this course is not flat. I’ll be running up and down rolling hills the entire day. If the forecast (partly sunny, light wind, 40’s – 60’s) holds, then we won’t be contending with the heat that they've had in prior years. Wind can be a problem and there’s no shade on the course. Also, we can expect sand, some short, steep climbs and several water crossings, two of which may be around 3 ft deep. Extra shoes and Drymax socks will be in my drop bag.

Though I’ll be taking it real easy in the first half, I expect the second loop to be another lesson in pain tolerance. I expect to be out there for 12 hours, so I’m gonna be hurting, especially this early in the season. It’ll be good mental training as I get ready for my R2R2R run at the end of April, which will certainly put me in the pain cave at some point.
My boy. Just because.
In other news, I had a FABULOUS 24 hours in Denver this past weekend with J-man. It was the first time we've been away together since the kids were born. Thanks to my running pal Sheila and her huz for watching the kids so we could enjoy some couple time. My friend Tammy had given us a free hotel stay so all we paid for was food. Speaking of which, it was all awesome. We had ate sushi appetizers at Taki Sushi (our fav was the “Sex on the Beach” rolls), had Belgian beers & fried food (don’t miss the beignets!) at the Cheeky Monk and afternoon tea the next day at The House of Commons Tea Room. Best 24 hours I've spent ever. Love my guy.
My favorite food
Our beers of choice
Love of my life
The other thing going on this weekend was the infamous Barkley Marathons – five 20-mile sadistic loops in what is considered the toughest 100 mile race in the world. As of last year, only 14 had completed all 5 loops within the 60 hour time limit -- an astonishing 1% finishing rate among the 900 or so that have tried. It's dubbed “The Race That Eats Its Young” and even seasoned Hardrockers and thru-hikers are given a dose of humble pie and felled after the first loop. Those of us not there follow the race on Twitter (#BM100) and even then, the info is sketchy at times. 

This year, the race started at 6:45 EST last Saturday morning and the conditions were lousy – rain, wind, snow, sleet and very cold at night. While I only checked a couple of times while on my Denver date, it was clear that the indomitable Jared Campbell (2012 finisher, Nolans 14 finisher and overall badass) was on his way to becoming the second 2x finisher after Brett Maune. By the end of loop #2, he had dropped everyone. Only four people completed the fun run (3 laps) in under the 40 hour cutoff. 

Just now, we got word that Jared made it to the yellow gate in a total time of 57:53. Amazeballs! Any time someone finishes a 100 miler, it's an incredible feat. But those that complete Barkley or Nolan's 14 in under 60 hours are in a special category of badass. Most ultrarunners don't have the mental fortitude to suffer for that long. Congrats to all the braved the course, got after it and finished as many loops they could. 
The Beast in blue (Photo: Barkley Marathons Doc Film)
And a quick shout out to Joe Grant and Jill Homer who participated in the White Mountains 100 this weekend, held in interior Alaska. Joe ran to a first place finish in an impressive time of 17:05 (course record) and Jill used the excellent course conditions to finish on her fat bike in 11:30. Awesome work!

Happy Trails,


17 March 2014

2014 Salida Marathon

"Good judgment comes from experience 
and experience comes from bad judgment." 
-Mark Twain

Distance: 26.2 miles 
Elevation: 3,546 ft
Time: 5:52

My second running of the Salida "Run Through Time" Marathon didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but it was still a great day both on and off the trails. The opportunity to run through the San Isabel Nat'l Forest with a bunch of my UR friends was one I have been looking forward to all year.

I was looking forward to this race for two reasons. One, it is my season opener since I skipped out on the Moab Red Hot in Feb. I train to race and I'm happiest when I'm racing, not training. I love the energy, support and camaraderie that I get from racing and if I could afford to do it, I'd do it every other week instead of a long training run.

The other equally important reason I love racing is being able to catch up with friends and acquaintances that I hadn't seen in 6+ months. I spend so much time training on my own that I get downright giddy at seeing my peeps. This year, I knew that I'd be seeing Sheila, Steve & DebBurch, Katie, Matt, Joe & Nick. I probably chewed their ears off, but I couldn't help it. I was thrilled to see them, talk shop and shoot the bull with 'em. I love ultrarunners!
Friday night dinner at Boathouse Cantina with the Peros
Last year, I ran with a head cold that was moving into my chest. I felt lousy the entire time and we had "weather" to contend with. This year, the weather was better (except for the periodic wind gusts) as well as the course conditions. With the speedwork I've been doing all year, I expected to better my time from last year. I did, but by a lousy 3 minutes. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Sheila and I snagged a cheap room at the Great Western Lodge and met up with Steve before heading over to the race start. While I was hanging out in the Steamplant, I ran into ultrarunning's biggest fan, Bill Dooper. I introduced myself and told him I was happy to help send him to Western States this year as part of a fund-raising effort orchestrated by a couple of runners in Fort Collins. He was obviously very touched by the generosity of the UR community. First pico-celeb meeting of the day: check.
Sheila, Steve and I at the start
We got off to a chilly start with blue skies and scattered clouds. It's relatively flat for the first couple of dirt/paved road miles then the gradual climbing begins on single track. I determined to run as much of the climbs as possible in an effort to season my legs a little better now that hillwork is a part of my weekly training. I really enjoy this section of the trail with its runnable climbs and occasional techy sections that add to my enjoyment of it. I leapfrogged with a gal named Brandi who wore the coolest skirt that shimmered in the sunlight. Made me happy every time I saw her, which was several times during the race. She then went on to put the hammer down and finish a solid 30 min ahead of me. You go girl!
Somewhere around the 3 mile mark
Brandi and her awesome shimmer skirt
I knew that at the 8 mile mark there would be a 5 mile climb up a dirt road to the turnaround point at approx 12.5 miles. I walked the whole thing last year; this year I ran it. That would be my undoing at the end of the race, looking back. Even though I felt fine at the time, things began to unravel about 10 miles later.
Passed a gal from Alaska on the road section
The deceptive thing about this course is that when you hit the turnaround point (the highest point of elevation) and start to descend, it's easy to think that your climbing is over. It's not. While the climbs are short, they tend to have snow and poor footing. The half-mile climb around 20 miles was particularly demoralizing last year. Since I knew it was coming, I resolved to power hike it and it didn't seem as long this year. 

The other thing that's deceptive is thinking that you'll make up time on all the descents in the second half. Wrong again. Unless you can bomb down technical, rocky descents like one of the front runners you won't be moving as fast as you'd hoped. I have yet to get a negative split from this course and to do so would require some smart pacing and better downhilling skills than I currently possess. Gotta work on that.
The 7-time Salida veteran I leapfrogged with
Clouds moving in
By the time I got to the final 4-5 miles of runnable trails, I couldn't get any turnover, despite the descending. That's when I knew I may have pushed too hard on the initial climbs. Last year, I was posting 9 mpm on those trails; this year, I couldn't get below 11 mpm. I should have done a walk-run combo on the road climb to preserve my legs for a faster finish.

I think I may also have been in a pre-bonk state at that point. I was taking a V-Fuel Peach Cobbler gel every 45 min. During that last hour, I started feeling a little lightheaded and having trouble willing myself to faster turnover. Perhaps because I pushed so hard I should have taken one every 30 min instead. Oh well, live and learn. 

So while it wasn't the best day I've had out on the trails, I learned some important things as I'm pushing myself more this year. I know what pace I can sustain comfortably for 26, 31 or 50 miles. Now that I'm willing to be sustainably uncomfortable in order to improve my times, I'm still figuring out how to listen to my body and adjust my effort accordingly. It's a delicate science it seems to find that line of running to your potential and not blowing up. I do it better when running less than 5 hours, but clearly need to figure it out for the longer races.
I guess it was an ultra after all
Afterwards, I headed over to the home of a family friend of Burch's where a bunch of us gathered for a fabulous post-race meal put on by his parents (who are awesome, just like their son). Now THAT was fun. Usually, I only get to chat briefly with the runners at a race. Getting to sit down and hang out for hours was definitely the highlight of my day. Besides catching up with the FoCo folks that I met last year I met a few others I only knew by name. What a great bunch. I managed to get my lodging squared away for Quad Rock as well as Run Rabbit Run while I was there (thanks Cat!). I mean, who offers something like that when they hardly know you? Ultrarunners, that's who. Just one of the many reasons they're awesome. 

Marsha, the lady of the house, is from Memphis and once I heard her accent, I fell into my old Nashville drawl instantly. I spent most of the 90's living there and it only takes a little inspiration to resurrect my twang. Love that gal and hope to see her again next year. 
Dooper, Burch & Katie
Nick (#2) and Josh (#1) were only 5 secs apart at the finish
Last year and this year's winner, Josh Arthur, laid down an impressive time of 3:06:29 with Sir Nick just 5 seconds behind him. Wowza. I couldn't come near that time on the Chicago Marathon course, let alone in the mountains. Respect!

Speaking of Josh, he happens to be a rep for V-Fuel, which is the gel I've been using since last summer. It's the only one I can stomach that doesn't make me want to spew. I like Peach Cobbler the best, but they do have other flavors. He gave me a 20% discount code of JCA20 that you can use to order online, so go to their website and try a sample pack. They just added a few new flavors like Maple Bacon, Cool Citrus & Fudge Brownie.

As if this weekend wasn't awesome enough, we celebrated my daughter's 4th birthday with a gaggle of princesses and purple cupcakes. I love that girl. Being a mama and runner is pretty damn awesome. Life is full and it is good!
After taking it easy for the next week, I'll be gearing up for the Rockin' K 50 Mile with speed and hill work as it will be a faster one in Kansas. Another chance to work on pacing and snag a 50 mile PR. Giddy Up!

Happy Trails,