Monday, September 26, 2011

UROC 100K Report

My right leg screamed in angst and pain. I put my hands on the cold, wet, grey stones I had just slipped on to throw myself back in an upright position to begin running again, trying to not lose even a second from my sloppy footwork. It wasn't even mile 3 in the Ultra Race of Champions 100K and I had just suffered a blow to my right Quadriceps that felt as though it had not only injured the muscle but went through to the femur itself. The terrain in the opening was brutal, a mix of wet rocks covering the trail, and steep grades which relentlessly destroyed the body with awesome climbs and grueling descents. It was a an accurate glimpse of what was in store for us the duration of our day, running 62.5 miles though the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I was in the right place mentally from the word GO! This race was about a strong finish and perfect pacing. Approximately 12,500’ of climbing awaited all of us on the course, and I couldn’t get caught up in trying to run someone else’s race. With the most competitive field in any race I have ever run, and with one of the most stacked fields in any Ultra ever, I knew I couldn’t destroy myself in the opening by trying to hang with runners who were battling in the opening miles, only to find themselves empty at the finish where it really matters. My strategy was confirmed as a wise one when I found myself running next to the highly respectable Brit, Ian Sharman, a phenomenal runner who ran the fastest 100 miler ever on American soil this year, 12 hours and 44 minutes at the Rocky Raccoon 100. I was thrilled to be chatting with the friendly Sharman as we approached the Summit of Wintergreen Mountain near mile 5.5.

After mile 5.5 I soon myself alone already which pleased me. In hopes of truly running my own pace, I was pleased to have the trail to myself, as I pounded the downhill miles to only meet more climbing before the next aid station. I was surprised at the amount of pain my quadriceps were in this early in the race, but honestly, I still felt better than any race in this year maybe, and I knew I had mental strength this race, and I was well rested and in peak form. I knew this because my heart rate was high relative to my perceived energy expenditure.

As the day progressed I maintained speed though the aid stations, which were all well stocked by Clif, manufacturer of high-end performance nutrition products. Fortunately, due to my great crew, consisting of Stephanie and Kara, I never actually had to stop running as they had my bottles ready to go for quick hand-offs at the aid stations, so I wouldn’t lose any time at aid. We were so fast at aid, I couldn’t even tell them about exciting things on the course, like my muscle stabbing fall early on, or about running with Ian Sharman up to Wintergreen Summit.  

At mile 18, near Sherando Lake, I managed to reel in and catch Dave James, winner of the 100 mile trail USATF championships this year. Chatting with the affable James, while navigating the singletrack around Sherando Lake was a highlight of the day for sure. I came out ahead of James and began the climb up Bald Mountain. I later heard that many runners dropped after the long technical climb up the rocky Bald Mountain trail, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I’m not sure if it was because they went out too quickly, or what, but I felt pretty good and had a good climb up Bald Mountain. Halfway up the climb, I caught Jeremy Pade and let him lead me up the climb a bit.I was glad to have the chance to chat for a moment with Jeremy as he is signed up for Pinothi this year, which is a 100 miler in Alabama in November. I was surprised to say the least when Jeremy and I both passed Michael Owen, one of the younger runners at UROC, who placed 3rd at the USATF 100 Mile National Trail Championships this year at Burning River. Michael is one of the guys I think are going to make the future of our sport. He’s crazy fast, and insanely good for how young he is. A guy like Michael who is so gifted physiologically to run fast road stuff who does ultras is going to be setting course records and raising the bar for the next 20 years. After Jeremy and I passed Michael, I then passed Jeremy and also another runner, Chris Reed.

After Bald Mountain was a long lonely stretch of pavement, and I didn’t see another runner for over thirty minutes, maybe even an hour, I don’t know. I began to grow worried I was off course and missed a turn, but I knew I was still seeing course markings and I knew I studied the map and I had to be on course, but I kept waiting for the aid station and it never arrived. What I didn’t realize was that the “aid” station at Spy Gap, mile 29.3 wasn’t a full aid station so I ran right by it expecting to reach the real aid later. The longer I ran, and looked at the mileage on my Garmin, I thought I had missed a turn and had screwed myself. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Spy Run Gap road went blanketed in fog and a strong breeze and the scene was ominous, but suddenly out of the fog, came a vision of figures and I heard clapping. I realized I was still on course and my world became right again.

I entered the out and back section and was glad to back on singletrack for a break from the pavement. I saw Dave Mackey walking and wondered if he was about to drop. Dave just set a new course record at the Waldo 100K last month, and has too many wins and national championships to even list. The benefit of an out and back stretch on the course is that I could definitively see my competition, and see their order and their spirits, etc. Soon after Dave Mackey, I saw Michael Wardian flying, and Geoff Roes looking downright spritely and fresh.

Upon reaching the Whetstone Aid Station again after the out and back, I changed my shoes as planned, which took less than 30 seconds, but I figured would pay large benefits on the road. It was mile 42 approximately at the Whetstone Aid, and the remainder of course was mostly pavement minus a very technical stretch of 5 miles of treacherous downhill singetrack on wet rock and muddy trail. I knew it was the right decision to switch shoes as soon as I stepped on pavement after 42 miles of running and was able to put in a strong pace even on the climbs. My cadence felt quick and light, but upon entering the Bald Mountain area again for the nasty trails, I had to pay my price.

I managed to gain placement as the race progressed all day. After Whetstone#2 following the out and back, I held 8th for a long time, and Chris Reed was in ninth. I was fast on the pavement and gained time on Grossman in 7th, but because I wanted faster road shoes, I sacrificed a lot of time during miles 48.5 to 53.5 as I pussyfooted down the Bald Mountain stretch with its steep grades and mud and rocks. I hit the aid station at mile 53.5 and Chris Reed had closed 10 minutes on me! As soon as I ran towards the station to grab my bottle which Kara and Stephanie tossed, I heard the cheers as Reed caught me!

Luckily, the rest was pavement, and I had already paid the piper and I could speed up now that I was back on roads for good. I didn’t even look back. Reed stayed behind, and I knew I had a slight advantage on the climbs. There was only 10 miles left, and I was empowered to hear that even as I crawled though the technical terrain in my road shoes, I still closed the gap on Grossman down to 4 minutes or so, and there was only 10 miles left.

The next 5 miles went by slowly as I was focused on not letting Reed catch me. I try to not race “behind me”, but I did NOT want to lose placement. I tried to focus on running my own race, and I did NOT look behind me even once to see where Reed was.

I entered the Aid at Reed’s Gap with only just over 4 miles left, and knew I had juice for a strong finish. I glanced back to see Reed entering the Aid Station, but I bolted without slowing. It was one mile downhill and then the finish was a climb over 3 miles to the finish. I held 10 miles per hour on the downhill to escape Reed and couldn’t see him at all, and then focused on attacking Grossman. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was there.

Halfway up the climb, with nothing left in my body I dug deep as I had been the whole last climb and destroyed myself. I saw Grossman, running and looking strong, and attacked and rested and attacked and rested. I would go his speed and then attack faster to close the gap, and then recover by going his speed. It was foggy and misty and epic to the core. I knew Grossman couldn’t see me, or didn’t see me, but then a car containing some of the elites who had dropped and were on the climb to check out the finish alerted Grossman, and then cheered me on too! I dug deep for my final attack and passed Grossman with a huge smile. I have known Grossman for many years, as he created my hometown ultra during the years he lived in Louisville. I raced against him at the Iron Mountain 50, my tuner race for UROC. He won that race setting a new course record, which he was also the founder of, and I got 2nd. I wanted to send a signal I was feeling better than I was, so I yelled encouragement at him, and he yelled something at my to the effect of, “You are CRAZY!” and I took off. I was on fire; I just passed Grossman with less than a mile, taking 7th. He said something, which I didn’t hear, and then maybe something else. I wish I knew what it was, but I soon learned that there was another runner right in front of me! I couldn’t believe how close this race was! I attacked and rested, but after destroying myself to catch this next runner, I couldn’t make the pass. He held sixth at the summit of the climb and I gave up the chase as I choked, literally from exasperation. There was about a hundred or 2 hundred yards of downhill to the finish and I came in a minute or so behind JB, and I took 7th overall. I was ecstatic with the finish, as epic as ever, with so much fog and mist, it was just theatrical. My crew wasn’t even expecting me so early!

During my interview the night before the race with Andy, ( an interview I almost didn’t do because I so overwhelmed by being in such great company upon arriving, seeing my name on a plaque with the other true “elites” etcetera), I told him I wanted a top 10, but I didn’t think it was possible. I got 7th and was jovial. I stuck to my game plan, and ran my own race, trying to not get swept away in a fast start which ending up forcing out many of the elites. My nutrition was good and my crew incredible.

I was proud of my pacing, and it left me with yet again a drive to grow faster and smarter and push the limits even further. Everyone was so friendly and what a great chance to finally meet all the runners I’ve been admiring from afar for so long. I couldn’t sleep much after the race, as I thought about my next race and what I can improve upon to gain speed and efficiency and finish in the fastest I am possible of.




Some after notes…

Here’s a link to some vids…

I’m at minute 4 on this one….

I’m at minute 9 here, for the interview…


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Iron Mountain 50 Race Report

Damascus, Virginia will always hold a special place in my heart and mind. As a quintessential trail town on the Appalachian, it embodies the spirit of the trail I hiked in 2005. I spent time Damascus during my AT thru-hike, a period of my life when I walked from Georgia to Maine on a life-changing personal odysey of growth and cartharsis.

The mountains surrounding Damascus are beautiful as well, I have always wanted to come back and do a trail race. Ironically enough, this summer while attempting to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail which I had planned ever since doing the AT in '05, I decided to come home early for many reasons, one of which was to get my race season underway. While searching for possible races to break my legs back in to racing, (I had a pretty stacked race schedule through April and was using the PCT thru-hike as several months of "Base Training"), I rememebered that the Iron Mountain 50 was the first weekend in September and I knew I wanted to do it.

I got home from Oregon in early-mid August, and began the training which would hopefully get my legs used to moving faster than the 3 mph I had been walking the previous 4 months. I had less than 4 weeks to adequately train for the Iron Mountain 50, but I had a great aerobic base from hiking 18-36 miles per day on the PCT at elevations from 6000' to 14,000'! After being home for two or three weeks, I managed to set a personal record on my stomping ground at Jefferson Memorial Forest on the Siltstone Trail. The Siltstone's a 13.5 mile out and back with steep climbing and technical terrain. I knew I was as ready as I could be for the race given the circumstances.

During the weeks preceding the Iron Mountain 50, I was also given a great opportunity to run in the Ultra Race of Champions 100K. (Thats 62 miles for you non-runners!) By being entered into the UROC 100K it automatically became my "A" race, and it is only 3 weeks exactly after the Iron Mountain 50. This meant I would be training through the week prior to Iron Mountain and I wouldn't be at 100% theoretically for Iron Mountain, but as close to it as possible. As excited as I was about Iron Mountain, to run with the greatest ultra runners in the world at UROC obviously trumped my race card as the priority. I took off and rested  Monday and Tuesday and ran 20 miles on Wednesday and Thursday before the race and then an easy 3 on Friday before Iron Mt to allow for recovery. -Definitely not ideal before a race but it was required for the end-objective which is placing as highly as possible in UROC.

All that rambling aside, I came to Iron Mountain to win. I was not going to be holding back anything, and I was hungry. After last season my confidence was up and I was going to fight for it. Up until about a week before the race, I had studied my competition and thought the likelihood of winning was seriously possible. This was before Shaun Pope and Eric Grossman signed up! I looked at the entrant list about a week before the race, and noticed these two late entries and got very excited to have the chance to race against them. True, it meant my chances of winning were greatly reduced, but who cares, placement is only relative to who shows up, and I wanted to race against someone of Grossmans and Popes caliber prior to UROC later this month. Grossman has long been sponsored by Montrail, a trail running shoe brand, and Shaun Pope set the course record at Iron Mt last year. Grossman has won over 30 Ultramarathons from 50K's to 100 milers, and has podiumed in many more. These guys are amazing athletes. Runners like Pope are the future of the sport, young and fast with the potential to throw down seriously fast road marathons, they are raising the bar in Ultras.

I showed up race morning and coincidentally, Eric Grossman was parked right next to me. I knew him immediately as the founder of my hometown ultra here in Louisville, the Lovin' the Hills 50K. He, of course, had no idea who I was, just like everyone else there.

As I prepared to race I joked with Stephanie that my secret weapon was foiled! Grossman showed up bearded as I was, and that it would be a true battle! (I hoped at least, against someone of Grossman's caliber!)

My plan for the race was to let Shaun Pope fly out of the gait. I assumed he would start a bit faster than Grossman and I. I knew I would have to push the limit the first few miles, maybe the first 10 or so,  just to stay up front in the opening miles, and gain positioning for later in the race, and stake a claim as a contender. I used to start slow, but to truely be competitive I find I have to go a bit faster than I would like in the opening miles, and use the middle of the race to settle into a groove, and then hopefully pick up speed at the end when the "real race begins" during the last 30% of a race. I wanted to stay with Grossman as he is someone who paces himself very well, and doesn't lose any speed. I was hoping to stay behind him the first 25 miles to conserve energy and if I had it in me, I would try to make a move in the second half of the race.

My legs felt like concrete. It was mile 4 and we hadn't begun climbing much yet. Pope was out front as planned and I was a few feet behind Grossman letting him set the pace. I wondered if I had it in me today. I have learned though, to be confident and not let the self-doubt rule your thoughts in the opener of a race of such great distance. It doesn't matter where you are in the begining, just the end. I found the balance between running another's race and my own. I ran "their" pace for the first 8 or nine 9 miles, and then backed off, letting them attack the first climb. It came time to run in my own world, in my own race. Surely enough, my faith in running my own race panned out to put me in second place behind Grossman. Somewhere near mile 10, I saw Shaun Pope slowing greatly on a climb. He had gone out hard, and was struggling now.

As I passed him, I asked him about his experience at the Western States 100, the pinultimate Ultra in the country. I hope to run it next year, but it is unlikely to get in as it is solely a lottery system to gain entry. Shaun was very nice, and it is great to race with such amazing talent. At only 22 years of age, guys like Shaun are going to be setting course records for decades to come. I didn't see Shaun again after that climb, and I don't know what mile he dropped at.

Around mile 16, at the Aid Station, Stephanie told me my placement was currently second, and I was concerned because I knew there should have been another runner in between Eric and I, apparently I later passed this anonymous runner as he was relieving himself in the woods!

At mile 22, I prepared for a long descent, nearly 7 miles all downhill, preceeding a large 3 mile climb to regain all of the elevation gain. I was running shirtless now, to aid in cooling, as my shirt was soaked with sweat and I was extremely hot. The air was so humid, that wearing a shirt wasn't allowing my body to cool through the process of evaporative heat loss, so my choice to run shirtless was a wise one. It felt much better and I was cooler by doing so. My hat was soaked and I can't recall ever sweating so much in any race, including Ironman Louisville last year when the temps were in the upper 90's. The humididty on the Iron Mt trail for race day was gnarly!

Near mile 25 I checked my watch. I read that I was 3 hours and 40 minutes into the race. One of my goals for this race was to run in under 7:42. That was the time I ran Lookout Mountain last December, which has 1500' less climbing and the singletrack is smoother and less rocky. Being able to run a faster than at Lookout would be a great accomplishment and I wanted to succeed in that goal. It was looking possible, but I knew the day would only grow hotter, and my race nutrition was running low.

I only brought 5 energy gels and 2 powerbars with me to the race, which is much less than I usually eat during a race. I managed to balance this out though, and although it may have affected my energy levels a little, I wanted to do a little experimenting for UROC later this months. I had enough sports drink, (EFS), to get through almost all of the race, only running out at the end, when I supplemented with the sports drink that the race provided at the aid stations.

I started to crash pretty hard inbetween miles 30 and 42. My heart rate would stay up, and my energy and enthusiasm were falling as well. I had been holding second place for many hours, and hadn't seen another runner in the same amount of time. I had to force myself to still attack all the climbs and not walk anything. I had no idea where third place was, and I was still hoping to catch Grossman although I knew it was pretty much impossible. I at least wanted to lose to Grossman by the smallest possible margin. I have enough respect for him to know how smart of a racer he is, and I knew catching him was pretty unrealistic, however, I never want to race "Behind me", trying to hold position. I always want to be on the prowl, trying to gain placement as opposed to hanging on for dear life just trying to not lose placement. I want to race, "in front of me", trying to close gaps, even if it isnt' realistic. Make sense?

As the temps rose, I would manage the body wanting to overheat on the hard climbs. I did this by slowing and listening to my body. I didn't want to crack and I wanted a strong finish. I could NOT allow myself to overheat. I drank a ton of electrolyte replacement drinks at the aid stops and my sports drink of choice also has a phenom level of electrolytes. I was really proud of my ability to manage the heat by altering my pace during the hottest stretches to allow for a strong finish. Once you have cracked in the heat and become dehydryhated, returning to a normal state is NOT easy and usually can't occur without stopping completely.

I came alive again from my death march about mile 42. I had run out of nutrition, but some cool water to the head, and a small handfull of gummi bears and a shot of 5 hour energy gave me a jolt. I began to fly again. I became fired up as I realized that if I had an incredible last few miles, I could hit my goal of a sub- 7:42 finish which was my Lookout Mt 50 time, but this time on a much hillier and rockier course. I ran 6:29 at the LBL 50 this year, but that is on smooth trail and has exactly of the elevation gain at only 4000', a great course and a great race nonetheless.

In my favor, the majority of the last few miles are all downhill. I often looked to my garmin and saw speeds of 9 or 10 mph. I knew it would be close to break my 7:42, but I was running "in front of me", and I was totally secure in my ability to hold second place. I passed some folks finishing the 30 mile course and enchanged encouragement, hoping they wouldn't think me psycho for blowing by on the rocky downhill trail, but I was on a mission. It began to rain for the first time of the day, but I was now in town and knew the course would foster speeds of 9-10mph, and I had about one mile and I was currently at a time of 7:30.

I crossed the line in 7:38, running 4 or 5 mins faster than my goal. I couldn't have been happier with the results of the day. I ran the best race I could have ran given the day, and I reached my goals. Stephanie and I had the fastest aid handoffs I've ever had, not stopping or sitting once, I would literally run by her, grabbing a prefilled bottle, shaving off time. I managed the unbearable heat well for me, and I paced myself well. I wasn't as sore as usual and I was in good positioning training wise for UROC in only 3 weeks. It was a succesful day, and I ran MY OWN race! It was a blast.  

I hung around the gazebo at the finish for about an hour chatting with the other finishers and congratulating them. Everyone at these races is always so nice and I see them all as family. We're all out here doing what we love with the help of the awesome race directors and volunteers. We had some good food at the finish and then I topped it off with a double scooped waffle cone on the ride back to hotel. I ate a great dinner at Harvest Table, a restaurant outside of Abingdon Va which uses locally sourced foods, on a gourmet scale, and for the first time ever, I felt so great after the race, I even enjoyed a beer with dinner.

A great weekend to get away and just relax, enjoying great company and beautiful trails...


Race Wear and Nutrition

Shorts- Pearl Izumi Infinity Compression
Shoes- Montrail Mountain Masochist
Shirt- Quest Outdoors Patagonia Cap 1 s/s
Socks- Injinji micro-mini orig weight
Bottle- Nathan Quick Draw Elite
Visor- Headsweats
Watch- Garmin 305
Gels etc-Clif Gels, and Clif Blocks, (1 pkg blocks, and 5 gels_
Bars- 2 powerbars
Hydration- Camelback elixer tabs and EFS

A special thanks to Stephanie for crewing~! We really have a great system down and it's awesome to see the progress in the speed of bottle handoffs, etc! thanks for all your hard work! She's really an awesome talent, printing out aid station maps and dealing with all the logistics!