Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hallucination Race Report / Season Update

I spent most of the past several years racing and training my ass off. I was pushing pretty hard in training and racing as well. When my body said it needed recovery I allowed it. I had some great times during those races and came away with more wins and podiums than I would have imagined. I was really lucky and blessed. I even landed a few course records. This year, my goal has been to recover and pay the piper. A lot of top athletes manage to forget to allow recovery and then find themselves in a hole they can't climb out of. I'm only 34 and still have a decade of solid racing ahead, but only if I'm smart and allow intermittent recovery. I wasn't blessed with the best cardiovascular engine. I get my results by running smart and focusing on solid training, nutrition, pacing, and tactics. In turn, I know that I need to run at 100% when I race to get the results I want. I planned this year as a chance to lay low after Western States and take a few months to chill out and recover.

My first race back was Run Woodstock / Hallucination 100 miler this past weekend.

Since Western States in June, recovery came a little slower than expected and I only just started feeling really back to 100% last month. I got in only one run over 20 miles since June, and that was two weeks ago in the Smoky Mtns.

The course at Woodstock was in great shape and the weather was as close to perfect as can be.

Pace and HR was spot on for the first 50 miles and then my lack of mileage revealed itself. My pace began to slow and I knew I should drop to the 100K option.

My main race goal this year is to finally break the 15 hour mark in a hundred mile run at Tunnel Hill this year. I knew that if I dug too deep at Woodstock I would jeopardize training for TH100 since my training had really just started.

I am happy with my decision to drop down to the 100K and keep my goals in check. I know in the long run, it'll pay high dividends and continue to build the resume I want and help me reach my ultimate goals in Ultra.

Today is only Tuesday, and I'm not sore and I'll be able to start training for Tunnel this week and really get in some quality mileage the next two months in prep. Sometimes we need to see the forest through the trees and keep our goals in check.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Western States 100- 2015 Race Report. A tough day on a beautiful course...

Bullet Points for my 2015 Western States 100 Run

  • My goal was 18 hours 30 minutes
    • Objectives to reach my goal were:
      • Powerhike the big climbs, run the flats, and bomb down the descents.
      • Nutrition should be normal...eat a 100 cal. gel every 20 minutes.
      • Manage heat. This was a primary objective to reaching my goal.
        • Keep ice around my neck all day in a “Buff”.
        • Take electrolytes as needed, more than usual, (q 30 minutes)
        • stay hydrated and drink often, monitor pee color, etc

  • I failed to respect the elevation- although I started very slowly per my plan, it was still too fast. My heart rate soared up into the 150’s in the opening miles. As a result, this was the soonest my heart rate has ever dropped into the 120’s. (Bonking = Running out of glycogen.) Usually in a 100 miler this happens around mile 80, but at WSER it happened at mile 47. This was an early bonk for me and meant it would be a long night.
  • Once I realized I went out too quickly I quickly regained control and slowed my pace. I knew I had to stay steady and stay on pace. I made sure to hyper-focus on getting in flawless nutrition, eating every 20 minutes. This was a victory in managing a blow.
  • On the climb up Devil’s Thumb in the infamous canyons, I thought I might be taking in too many electrolytes so I backed off. (My vision was getting funky, I had a headache, and energy was waning.) This was a huge mistake. By the top of the climb my energy plummeted and just trying to stand upright at the aid station was nearly impossible. I didn’t allow myself to stop, I just soaked myself in ice and took several electrolyte capsules to catch back up. I walked for a bit until I felt better. I forced calories down and eventually re-entered the  land of the living. Walking was a herculean effort as I gained energy back.
  • I’ve worn the same model shoes for years with great success. This shoes I wore in the race were an updated model however. They changed the upper to be more voluminous. This created a chance for my foot to slide around. I got a giant deep blister on the bottom of my heel. I corrected this as soon as possible at mile 38 by changing into old shoes, but the damage was done. I tried to ignore the pain and just make sure to keep my footwear tight and snug and loose in the toe box. The blister didn’t get much worse but the descents were really painful. I’m glad I jumped on the situation as early as I could but my descents would have been better without a giant blister covering my heel.
  • My pacers did an awesome job. It’s amazing the experience they’ve accumulated over the year. Daniel and Maddy became my brain, forcing me to eat on schedule and manage my pace to make certain I didn’t blow up. They helped secure my sub 24 hour buckle.
  • I learned a lot from this race. I was dealt several big blows with the altitude and some physical setbacks, but I fought back. I was far from my time and placement goals but I didn’t let pride get in my way. I wanted to make sure I pushed myself 100% and I certainly left everything out on the course. That was my absolute best effort. It was nothing special on the outside, but I fought for it. The final 15 miles I had to increase my pace by several miles per hour to come in under 24 hours. This seemed impossible but I stayed glued on Maddy’s heels and we rolled in with 25 minutes to spare.

The gun went off at 5:00 a.m. Surrounded by the best athletes in the world in the most prestigious race in the world I began a journey I’d been waiting years to commence. I leaned forward and began my climb, sticking to my game plan. I let the lead pack out in front. This way my race. The fastest way to the finish line was by running an even, sustained, effort. The opening miles of an Ultramarathon are always tough. Most runners start too quickly. You must perform a  balancing act… If you start too quickly you’ll slow down drastically in the second half. If you start too slowly you risk letting the early leaders get too great a lead and you can’t reel them in. Also compounding the challenge is that in trail races, single-track trail means single file so if too many get in front of you early on then you’re stuck behind the train of runners.

The first 4 miles of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run course are an ascent up to Emigrants Pass. The altitude is just shy of 9,000’.

I vowed that success was dependent on starting slowly at Western States and so I let the pack go out in front. I was going much slower than I wanted to, but clearly I was still going out way too hard; In an ideal situation my heart rate would be in the low 140’s during the opening miles, but the lack of oxygen meant that even though I was going much slower than I wanted to, I was still going way too fast. This would eventually lead to huge performance losses in the race. Climbing the escarpment my heart rate was in the high 150’s. The lower oxygen at high altitudes creates a dangerous situation. Lower oxygen levels in the air simulate running at a faster pace. The lack of oxygen forces you to burn more glycogen. This creates a scenario in which its easy to hit the dreaded “bonk”. I basically started my WSER run at Marathon intensity...oops. Good job, Coach.

As soon as I crested the escarpment at mile 4 I checked my watch. It took an hour and 3 minutes. I was pretty happy with the fact I thought I paced myself slowly and still made it over the hardest stretch in just over an hour. This was my main strategy...make sure to take the first climb easy. On the descent people moved to the side kindly and let me pace. I wasn’t pushing too hard, but my strength is strong descents and so I wanted to take advantage.

I was in high spirits to finally be on the Western States course racing in the “most prestigious ultra in the world”. The scenery was heavenly. Full exposure on ridge-lines with some tree cover occasionally. I smiled every time I saw a camera to document my good vibes...hahaha.

By mile 20 all the descents left my legs feeling fine but my left foot was not happy. It had been sliding around in my shoe and my entire heel was one large blister. I retied my shoe to help my foot stay in position but this new shoe still provided more volume than I needed. I tried to ignore it until I saw my crew and promptly requested a new pair of shoes. I usually don’t stop or sit in a hundred but this needed to be resolved. My old shoes came in a jiff and a few minutes later I scurried off.
Feet now tended to, I still had 75 miles to go. The blister was bad, but in a 100 mile run the most important variable is staying hydrated and fed and I was making sure that happened. As long as I had energy I'd be able to push through pain...been there, done that. Hundreds are tough. I began to pass people in the canyons as the heat crept in and I thought my race strategy was working perfectly.

Before I started the infamous climb up the hot Devil’s Thumb, I decided to skirt under the bridge and jump in the stream quickly. I thought it might take an extra minute but it would be worth it for the cool jolt right before climbing.I envisioned passing people wishing they'd have soaked too...

The quick dip didn’t work. My condition deteriorated rapidly as I climbed in the heat. I had a headache so I thought maybe I should quit taking salt tabs. This compounded my ill feelings. By the time I got to the summit of Devil’s Thumb I could barely stand. Everyone around looked pretty bad too but this was when I was supposed to start reeling in carnage...instead, I WAS the carnage. It was almost the halfway point.

It took every ounce of strength and willpower but I didn’t stop at the aid station. I took some ice and chugged some soda and grabbed a popsicle. I was really happy to see my friend Jon Allen pass by me. Earlier in the day we were cat and mousing and he mentioned his quad was hurting so that spurred me on a little when I saw he was feeling better. When we were chatting he mentioned former Western States winner Tim Olson had dropped out of the race he was running the night before in Italy. This put me in somewhat dark spirits as it got me thinking about overtraining and my past two years...I tried to stay positive and not doubt my fitness. I took off several months after the best two years ever and so I should be fresh going into Western...maybe it was just the heat leaving me feeling not so spritely...maybe it was the altitude. I race well in heat though...so chalk this to altitude. SHIT. Regardless, I needed to eat on schedule, take my electrolytes again on schedule and force 110% effort at all times. This was Western States!

Although I was running slowly, I was happy to be running at all considering I nearly collapsed dead at the halfway point. The knee I had sprained badly a month ago was protesting slightly but with all the downhill that's to be expected. It wasn't too bad. Coming into Bath Aid Station near mile 60 I was elated to see my crew. I knew that I had a chance to hang on and not completely die out there.

Seeing my crew picked up my spirits greatly and so I think I ran extra quick the first few miles with Maddox and Maddy, Maddox and I left Maddy with Stephanie at Forest Hill (mile 62) and I soon began to crash again. I balanced my expenditure as best as I could to maintain my strategy to walk the climbs and run the flats and downhills but I was pretty pathetic. My sprained knee from the previous month flared up and the blister, although it wasn’t worse since I changed shoes began to become more painful. Honestly though...the thing that was killing me was the energy system failure. I could handle any pain, but my main goal in this race was to be strong and powerful, but since I blew up at the halfway point I was pushing deep, everything I had, and the pace was pathetic. I tried to keep my B goal on the forefront of my mind. I could still get the coveted silver buckle for finishing in under 24 hours but I would have to balance my pace perfectly. I needed to maintain right where I was. The whole run was downhill to the American River and Maddox did an awesome job pacing me. He pushed me but allowed recovery when I would climb and get hot. It was so hot still and night was falling. At one point he asked, “Are you going slow because it hurts or because you’re being lazy?” I loved this question as the answer was neither! The pace I was running was my 100% and I was getting nauseous and burping even at that snails crawl!

By the time we hit the storied crossing of the American River it was time to see Stephanie and Maddy again. I collapsed into a chair. It is indescribable how long the last 5 miles took to get to Rucky Chucky at mile 78. Minutes turned into hours. Time had stopped and my misery was eternal, infinite, a purgatory of trying to run and suck down sports gels even though I was ready to puke and overheating on every climb.

I was basically slurring my speech and not ready to leave my spot in the chair but a few minutes had passed and my crew commanded me to get up. I chugged a red bull and stepped foot into the river.

The cold river made me instantly cry out and I gagged and dry heaved. There are volunteers standing in the river holding a large metal cable. There are glow sticks tied to boulders in the water and the waders tell you where to step. They kept telling me to put both my hands on the cable but I was very confused and I kept taking one off, to which they’d yell and I would confusedly ponder what they meant. This simple task was rocket science to me at that point. I was worried I’d lost it.

Maddy was brilliant on the climb up Green Gate. She forced me to eat extra chews even though It wasn’t time for food yet. She read the situation well because the climb up Green Gate to mile 80 I felt human again. Maddy and I reminisced our time together last year where the roles were reversed…”Remember when you fell there last year and started puking, laying in the dirt?” Yup..ultras are awesome. Why do we do this again?

Maddy chatted endlessly and her enthusiasm and passion for the task at hand made the time less miserable. I was grateful to have such awesome friends like Maddox, Stephanie, and her to help me in my endeavors. I managed to keep pace even though it was incredibly hard. I let Maddy in front of me and she began to pick up the pace and that’s when I stopped whining and started really digging deep.

With 15-20 miles left an Aid Station captain warned me that I was OVER 24 hour pace. I wasn’t going down without a fight. I quickly grabbed a popsicle stick covered in Vaseline from the aid station medical director and applied it straight to my thighs which were chaffed something awful. I ran out of that aid station and Maddy set a good pace.

I was picking up the pace greatly and had a good system going. Pacing a runner who is running well is a complete different beast than pacing a runner at his worst. This was me at my worst and barely hanging on. She knew when to crack the whip and when to allow recovery. Maddy and Maddox both did a great job with me at my worst…

We were finally back under 24 hour pace. I couldn’t believe the speed with which we were climbing again. I didn’t care if I blew up and collapsed. My logic was if I burned the candle and crashed I was no where in jeopardy of missing the 30 hour time cut. I had to leave my heart and soul out on the course to EARN that sub 24 hour buckle. If I crashed and required a 2 hour recovery I didn’t care. I had to try for that sub 24 buckle even though I felt deathly. So what if I wasn’t in the top 20 like my goal...so what if I was over 20 hours. There was no room for pride. I had to get that sub 24 buckle.

Coming in to the highway 49 road crossing I could switch pacers again and see my crew. Maddy asked me if I wanted Daniel (Maddox) to pick me up and start pacing again but I told Maddy that we had to stick with our system. In the past 10 miles we had drastically improved pace and position and we couldn’t break a system that was working that close to the finish. This would definitely work and get us in under 24 hours. I’m sure Maddox was more than capable as well, I just didn’t want to change what was working. Maddox would be able to pick us up at mile 98 and we could all run in together.

The last climb was hard but I poured out every ounce of energy I had left. We summited and I could NOT believe the pace improvement over the last 15 miles. Maddox and Maddy and I all ran in and Stephanie was waiting there inside the track. I was more relieved than elated to be honest. I was glad it was done and that I stuck it out and gave it everything. I’ve paced many runners on their worst days and to an extent it can be more inspiring than pacing a runner on a good day. I didn’t feel good about it though. I was proud of my run. I did the best I could. I was disappointed though. I’ve done so well in so many other races but this is the biggest ultra in the world. This is the one that matters. It left me inspired to come back. At that point and still today, I have a fire under my ass to try to come back and avenge this result. I know it might not be the best race report, but it’s honest. I’m pissed and I want revenge. If you do well at every other race and not Western...then….I don’t know. It seems like a cop out...like a farce. You have to do well at Western. I need a good run on Western soil. I need a run in which I meet my potential regardless of what that means.

I’m writing this race report from a cabin in the Smokies. I was supposed to be backpacking but I left the trail to come find a cabin with wi-fi to hopefully get this out. I’m allowing time to decompress and one thing that’s really hard is I don’t have an immediate goal. I raced monthly the last few years and most of those were really good runs. Now I have no direction...no goal. I know this sounds dumb to say out loud, but running keeps me grounded. It forces me to eat and recover and tackle all else in life so I can be strong for my races. I also know that my main goal is to be competitive well into my late 40’s and I’m only in my early 30’s. I need to give up a few months of rest to the gods of running so I don’t become overtrained. I want to be healthy overall and do this the right way...for life.

My next goal is going to be one of the hardest of my career. I want to run a sub-15 hour hundred to improve upon my 15:27 100 mile personal record. Tunnel Hill in November is the course for it. I was fatigued last year from too much racing leading up to it. This year I’ll be putting all my eggs in one basket hoping to go into Tunnel recovered. This past spring was a great season, with a 5:18 50 mile split and some other performances I’m really proud of. I allowed recovery before Western so I think I should be fresh for TH100.

Blame any typos in this report on a fine single-batch bourbon I’m cozying up to in this mountain cabin. I seem to left out various details like my right knee being twice the size of my left me upon finishing, it all sounds like more whining though and I'm done whining, Time to move on and recover.

A final note...this race sets the bar for organization and awesome volunteers. Don't let my whining fool you. Everyone needs to do this race.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Racing in Heat- The Balancing Act of Fluids, Electrolytes and Calories. Beating race day woes.

"I can't run in heat." 

"Every time I run in heat I puke."

"I race better in cold weather."

Summer is upon us. This past weekend runners got their first taste of heat and humidity,unfortunately for some, this was also a weekend that held several large races.

With proper planning and education:

We CAN run in heat.

We CAN run without puking.

There IS a reason why we vomit. There IS a reason we get dizzy and weak. Running in heat and humidity is a challenge for several reasons:
  • We go into race day with a game plan regarding pace. In hot weather we must race for the conditions, NOT for a goal we came up with in ideal conditions. RUN SLOWER, FINISH STRONGER.
  • We must stay hydrated and take in electrolytes. If you feel dizzy or weak, it is because you are most likely deficient in fluids, electrolytes and/or calories. 
  • All races are NOT created equal. Races longer than 8 hours in length are exponentially harder in relation to electrolyte and fluid management. The body will REVOLT if you don't have a great game plan to address all the variables related to strategy on race day regarding heat management and all the variables related to strong race day performance.
  • You must take in enough calories while running in heat. Your stomach will fight you if you are overheated. If your electrolytes and fluids are balanced your stomach will accept fuel better.
Why do we vomit in heat? There are several possible reasons, the most likely culprit is electrolyte imbalance. Hyponatremia in usually to blame. Hyponatremia is a low salt concentration in the blood. Your body is always trying to create homeostasis,the fluid in your body needs to be a certain concentration of salt to fluid. When you run low on salt, your body will begin to purge itself of fluids to reach the concentration it needs to function. You will urinate very frequently and possibly vomit. Peeing frequently might lead you to believe you are hydrated, but you are actually becoming low on fluids AND salt at this point. Not only are you now low on electrolytes but you are now dehydrated AND losing blood volume which your cardiovascular system needs to function.

Running at an intensity too hard for the conditions can also create havoc. If you aren't trained for the heat you are racing in, and you are pushing the pace too hard, your body is too overwhelmed to digest food. If you are overheating and running your body doesn't want to be overloaded with the demands necessary to digest food so it purges anything in your stomach it to focus on cooling down and getting blood to working muscle groups.

Ultramarathons are chess, not checkers!

Ultramarathons are full color in 3D, not one dimensional black and white.

A break down of the needs of a runner in heat:
  1. Calories must be easily digestible. You need several hundred per hour for ultra events.
  2. Fluids and electrolytes must be balanced and replenished. You must know what your specific body needs. Going off of recommendations on bottles is misleading because those instructions are most likely not for ultra distance. A 26 mile marathon runner does not need as many electrolytes per hour as a hundred mile runner in heat. 
  3. Pacing must be adjusted to account for climate.
  4. Staying cool externally with wise clothing options and tricks.
The condition in which a runner shows up to a start line is also a large factor in their ability to perform in heat. A runner who is overly ambitious in their training plan will often falter and succumb to heat intolerance. A lot of runners who are striving to progress in the sport would benefit from added recovery before a race but we must let of anxiety and allow ourselves to recover. It's anxiety that fuels overtraining. We must have faith in our bodies and our training.

There are many variables to consider for running in heat. I highly recommend if possible to train in the hottest part of the day. Don't rely on your innate talents to get you though an event. Work harder AND smarter and reach your maximum potential.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Planning For Peak Running Success. There is no "Set Formula".

Often times we look back with limited sight on a successful race we had in the past and think "I've got it! A formula for success! THIS is what I need to do to have great races from now on! I'll train exactly how I trained for my last race and I'll always run like I did when I PR'd!"

Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Trust me, I WISH it was...

I've been studying my mileage data for the past few years pretty thoroughly gearing up for Western States 100 on June 27. It's always tricky balancing a training schedule to build for a true "peak". What I see are some drastically different months of training over the past year. There are several months in which I average low mileage back to back. Some months are as low as 50-60 miles per week...then on the flip side, there are months in which I average 100 miles per week.

I gauge success over long periods of time...how one fairs in the long haul. 

Looking back at my past year I couldn't be happier. In 2014 I ran some low mileage months in January through March to leave some gas in the tank for my main goals in the summer. I was pretty spent from high mileage over the fall and needed to step back. As mentioned, I also wanted to save some energy for the summer. A big focus of my year was the Hawthorn Half Day Run in June. (In 2013 I broke the previous Hawthorn CR running 78 miles in 12 hours but I was beat out in a near photo finish...I knew I could improve upon that. Training in May held a lot of 100 mile weeks and the week before the race I even got in a 19 hour week with nearly 120 trail miles. I played my cards right and ran 81.5 miles at Hawthorn and set a new course record as was the goal.)

I recovered well after Hawthorn and then got in some more high volume weeks over 100mpw before the Burning River 100 which was the first of August. I had a strong run at Burning River and was lucky enough to come away with a run in which I won, but most importantly, a run in which I ran at my potential and felt strong.

The months following Burning River held more strong races and more tightwalking the fine line of recovery, training, and racing. By the time I got to Tunnel Hill 100, I was wasted. I ran a "decent" race at TH100 in November. I ran too many in the weeks leading up to Tunnel though. Any 100 mile run is truly something to be grateful for and something to be proud of but I ran below my potential due to fatigue. I finished in 16 hours and could've finished in the 14's. It's wasn't a bad run, it just wasn't great, and definitely wasn't what I'm capable of.  (...placement has little bearing on your success at a race. You never know who will show up...only YOU or your coach know if you've run your true potential and at Tunnel Hill I did NOT.)  

It was time to back off.

I cut mileage down to 50 mile weeks again and ran very little in between TH100 and Lookout Mountain 50 in December. Recovery proved to be effective as I felt really good at Lookout, which is a technical, tough, mountain 50.

In winter and early spring I stayed with my low mileage plan and raced stronger than ever before my yearly rest period in April.

We don't need to get wrapped up in mileage and concerns of "Are we doing enough?" We can run at near our potential year round if we cycle our training periods and volume along with intensity. Cycling periods of several months of recovery and maintenance mileage along with periods where we focus on high volume is the way to stay strong and fit year round. We can try to be proactive and plan these periods but we never know exactly when we will need to switch models. 

This is why it is so important to keep great records of our data and continually evaluate our moods and attitudes towards training. If we find we're falling short of our potential then maybe we need to back off and cut our mileage for a while.If we haven't been putting in a lot of effort in our runs lately because "life" has gotten in the way, perhaps the key to success is letting go of the things in life that are distracting us from training. We might just need a few high mileage, high volume months to build our engines to capacity. 

Set Goals and look at past successes and failures. Leave a small margin of error and work patiently towards a track record of success, making small incremental adjustments to build a race resume you can be proud of. Find what inspires you and work to reach those goals. You can do whatever you want to do, you just have to be willing listen to your body.

There is no set  "formula" for success. As much as all of this is a science, it takes an analysts and artists mind to interpret the endless variables and move forward with a game plan for peak adaptations to training and recovering from the load we've placed on ourselves.

As for me, I'm back to high volume. I typically race strong in June after recovering in April and I look forward to Western States 100! I'm feeling pretty good right about now although I'd like to have more miles under my belt. Only a few weeks ago I felt like I was way behind the curve but as usual I'm always shocked how quick form and endurance comes back. It's gonna be a fun day in California.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile- 3 Days at Syllamo Stage Race- Back to Back Race Weekend Report

Dr Studly Brooks, Hot Stuff Hoyes, Myself, Wonderboy Breeden
I was pretty thrilled when I found out that the Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile Trail Run would actually take place on the road this year. The incredible amount of snow and rain had made the course impossible to conduct a race on and the number of runners participating in the race would have destroyed the trails. Last year the course was in rough shape with ankle deep mud for miles upon miles. The prospect of repeating last years experience left me less than thrilled, but with the course now on a beautiful stretch of road/running paths in the woods at LBL I was happily anticipating my 9th LBL race in as many years.

A road 50 miler meant less wear and tear on the body. I had a race the following weekend and I needed to recover as quickly as possible. I was also excited at the chance for a new 50 mile PR. The road course at LBL was TOUGH though and it rained the whole day. The normal 50 mile route on trails is not technical and it holds about 4000' of climbing. The actual distance of the trail route on my Garmin usually comes out to about 48 miles. The road route was a longer distance of 52 miles and the road course had more elevation gain than the trail route at 4800'! My previous 50 mile PR of 6:25 would be tough to beat with extra climbing and extra mileage. I wasn't concerned about the upcoming race just 6 days after LBL. I wanted to test the limits. Through experience, I've found sometimes to expect the unexpected. I was feeling strong.

I started the first lap at a pace I felt comfortably uncomfortable with. Ha! I was running with my friend Matt Hoyes chatting and passing the time. Matt usually starts in front of me but I felt strong and steady running with him so I stayed put. Matt would push on the frequent climbs and I would catch him on the descents. With so many friends out on the course the time passed quickly cheering one another on.

Matt and I completed our second lap in 3 hours and 11 minutes which was right at marathon distance. At that point in the race we were in 1st and 2nd place. There were a lot of guys close on heels, but no one was gaining any distance that we could notice. Matt was pushing the pace hard enough that I once again thought that this might be his day. We took turns pulling the lead, and when I was in front, I made sure to push a little extra just to show that I was feeling peppy too. When he was in front, I was trying my hardest to stay on his tail. We were punishing each other pretty good and I was loving every minute of it! I knew the road course put the advantage in Matt's court as his leg speed is really strong on the road, but my endurance/stamina is good. I was hoping that one of us would pull out the win that day. We laughed at our buddy Scott Breeden flying around the 60K course at ridiculous speeds with a giant grin on his face. I was happy to see Ron Brooks pacing himself well in his first 50 mile attempt. I pegged Ron a contender for a podium spot in his first 50 if he ran smart and fueled well. He was keeping somewhat even splits with Matt and I most of the first few laps.

Halfway through the 3rd of 4 laps, Wes Trueblood came in like a hurricane upon Matt and I. He passed us on a climb and he was cramping badly. I was already giving it 100% when Matt and I were sharing the lead, but I found extra will to run with Wes and not let him get too far. I REALLY wanted the win that day. I've come in 2nd place too many times at LBL to count. Wes and wonderboy Scott Breeden train together in Indiana so I figured he might be strong on the day. When Wes passed me, he was cramping and his formed looked a little rough but man was he a FIGHTER! He put a gap on me of at least 60 seconds but I fought to not let him get too far. I honestly didn't think he could hold his pace because his limp from the cramps looked so drastic. He was running SMART though. He took some electrolytes at the next aid station and continued to pull the lead. In the process of chasing down Wes on that 3rd lap, I somehow lost sight of Matt whom I figured would be right there in the mix. My lap splits were still within minutes of the first lap so I was happy that I was holding my "suicide" pace without falter. 

I hit mile 50 and had mixed feelings. I was really happy that I met my goal of finally running 50 miles in under 6 hours and 20 minutes. I hit mile 50 in 6:18. The course was long though and so I still had two miles to go. I was chasing down Wes up front but couldn't see him. With only two miles to go I knew he'd take it and I'd be 2nd. I crossed the finish line in 2nd place in 6 hours and 32 minutes. I was happy my body felt so great and had such a strong race. I ran the fastest 50 mile split I've ever done, and it was in a downpour after having a very busy and hectic race schedule the past two years. I was disappointed that the course was long. My official time was 6:32, but the most important thing was that I felt so strong after having such a good year. 

I raced like there was no tomorrow and I didn't concern myself with the stage race taking place the following week.

Immediately upon finishing I started recovery for the stage race which was scheduled to begin on the following Friday. My mind was focused, clean, and driven. I ate as much as I could and relaxed. 

The following week I monitored every calorie that went in to my body and made sure to get in extra calories. It felt funny to carb load two weeks in a row, but on the second week I was also getting extra protein to aid in recovery for Syllamo. 

Stephanie and I left for the Syllamo Stage Race on Thursday and I was in a great frame of mind. I wasn't anxious or stressed about the race. I wasn't worried about performance. I planned on pushing myself 100% each day, and after such a successful year I wasn't concerned about results. I just wanted to run in the mountains for a few days with friends.

Typically, I would pace myself in a stage race, but I wanted to see what I was capable of. The fact that I ran a 50 mile PR effort the week before didn't deter me. Even though I was not in to top form, I wanted to challenge myself and enter into a depraved state.

The first race was on Friday. It was 50k (that's 32 miles roughly.) The course claims 10,000' of climbing which is quite an exaggeration. It's probably closer to 6000' but it's still the most technical and mountainous 50k I've run. Most of the trails were off camber and footing was tricky.

I started with fury and tried to push hard on the first climb. I ran in the lead pack the first mile or so but my legs felt heavy and tired. I pushed harder and the lead pack pulled away from me. I realized I couldn't run THEIR race and I had a long three days ahead of me. I needed to run comfortably. I found a more comfortable pace early on and found myself alone just behind the lead pack, but far ahead of the other racers. I looked around and enjoyed the beauty of the mountains. I was shocked how diverse the terrain was. The ecology resembled much larger ranges and I was in heaven just being out in the mountains on a gorgeous warm sunny day. I even had time to decide to direct a new trail race this summer at Bernheim! I made the commitment to restart the Bernheim Trail Marathon while out enjoying the trails of the Ozarks. 
Coming into the second aid station I was informed that the lead pack was only a minute or so ahead of me. This was GREAT news. I was running easy and comfortably and the fact that the lead pack was so close meant that I would soon be with them. I knew I had the capacity to really push the pace in the final half. 

A few miles before the halfway point I was running with the lead guy. I took the lead at the turnaround and started pushing immediately. 

I opened a gap and I was thrilled to be feeling so good. I wasn't in a world of pain. I was feeling good and I was running because I genuinely wanted nothing more than to be out there in the mountains running up and over ridges and hollows in the Ozarks. The course was an out and back which always makes it fun to cheer on the runners heading out the other way. I gradually saw my friends heading towards the out and back. Mark Linn, Maddy Blue, Andrew Borst, Daniel Maddox. Every looked great! 

I grabbed my iPod from Stephanie and took my time at the aid station. I was truly enjoying each mile and I felt like I wanted to push even harder. I was almost disappointed to make the final descent to the finish line since I was really enjoying the course. Usually when leading, the finish can't come soon enough! Ha! 

I crossed the line in 1st place overall in 4 hours and 33 minutes. I ran an exact even split. My split at the halfway point was 2:16. I would say it was one of my stronger 50k runs and I can't believe it happened only six days after my LBL 50 run!

I felt good afterwards and began refueling immediately for stage 2 on Saturday choking down as many carbs as possible. It was a blast hanging in the sunshine, feeling great about how the body responded, all while watching many friends come in and finish.

Saturday mornings 50 mile run started early at 6 a.m. It was dark and foggy. I felt fresh and ready to tackle the first ascent. I was pretty shocked how good I felt after the adrenaline surge from the previous day. I led the way from the start and the miles ticked away effortlessly and I wondered when someone would make a move.

We followed the flags to the first aid station which wasn't until ten miles into the race. Descending down to the road I was glad we were right on schedule coming in. When we arrived at the aid station, the workers informed us we were at the wrong aid station. "How could this be?!?!" We followed flags all the way from the start! I asked if there was any way maybe they were at the wrong spot? Confusion ensued. More runners started showing up. 

We realized we had somehow missed a turn in the opening mile of the race. We were TEN miles off course! The flags we were following made this fact even more confusing! I quickly realized my chance for winning the day was DONE. This also meant my chance for winning the stage race was done. I felt FANTASTIC physically but my chances were blown. What a bummer. I told the other runners we only had ONE option. We HAD to go back to the start and restart the course. I yelled, as cheerily and positively as I could, "OK! Who wants to get in 70 miles today! It will be fine, we'll go slower and still get in a finish!" Come on!" No one budged though except Andy. They decided to run what they felt like to get in their 50 miles for the day. They continued to follow the flags out, and then run back the same way they came out. That wasn't the race course though.

Just running 50 miles anywhere you see fit doesn't count as finishing the race. The elevation is different, the terrain is different, etc. What is the entire purpose of a race?! Unless you run the course, you deserve a DNF. Is it unfortunate? YES. It sucks! It's heartbreaking! But to run an alternate course and claim you finished is not the truth. If you take away the risk of failure, you take away the reward in accomplishing something! We aren't entitled to say we finished just because we're too weak to accept that we failed. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. We need to accept that sometimes we try and fail. Don't be scared of that. Have faith in your ability to be truly strong. To finish a race, all runners must run the same course. Anything else is just a training run. We only had one option, and that was to try to get back to where we went off course and try to start over. Andrew Borst was in agreement with me, and of all the runners that went off course, he was the only one who tried to go back to the start line with me.

In a rather positive mood considering our bad luck we talked about running and racing on our way back to the start. While crossing a road we saw a truck with some volunteers and we chatted briefly and told them our plans. Somehow, this messed up my directional senses again and went another 6 miles off course. Unbelievable!

Syllamo Gang sans Stephanie! 

Eventually we made it back to the start and found the turn we had missed. It was marked. I just missed it in the early morning light. A lot of people wanted to debate the quality of the course markings, the lack of course markings, the lack of reflective tape and ground markings since it was a dark start. The fact is that regardless of the quality of the markings, this course has a reputation for being incredibly minimal in its markings. We all knew this going into it. We still missed a marked turn. It had taken us approximately 5 hours to get back to the starting line. By the time I got to the aid station at mile 14 to meet Stephanie I had already run 40 miles and I still had 36 to go. The aid station had been broken down and everyone and everything were gone. There was no way I could make the time cuts. I called it a day and headed back to the start line. The race director and I had previously chatted briefly and came to the conclusion that unless someone ran the course their time shouldn't count. In the end, this was overturned. People who crossed the line were allowed to keep their times and were credited with a finish. It was just an unfortunate situation. I suppose I should have just ran another 10 miles that day and crossed the line? No. I was fine with a DNF on principle.  The course was very pretty though, the camaraderie was good and the night was still very fun. Even amid all this I was in good spirits and enjoyed the bluegrass concert they had at the start finish line that night. The event really is quite fun.

Day 3 was a half marathon and I was pretty fired up from the day before. I planned on giving it everything I had. I was only strong enough to finish in 2nd place among the stage runners, 3 minutes behind a strong German, and 4th overall. (There were 2 runners who just raced the half marathon on Sunday.) I couldn't have been happier with how powerful I felt after all the racing I had done in the past week. I had a blast hanging with my friends over the weekend and enjoyed the experience overall.

Now it's rest and recovery time. A few weeks off before training starts for the Western States 100 which takes place in late June.