Monday, June 20, 2011

Black Hill 100M Pre-Race Thoughts

Six days from now I’ll hopefully be reaching the turnaround of the Black Hills 100M. Tapering is once again making me go crazy. I thought I’d put a few thoughts together in the calm before the storm.

Info about the race:

The race takes place in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. The route starts in Sturgis and runs south along the Centennial Trail for 50M before turning around and coming back to Sturgis along the same trail. The course is almost exclusively single track and ‘ATV’ trail. The elevation ranges between 3500-5500 feet.

Here’s an elevation profile of the first 50M.

The second half is back in the opposite direction. The total elevation gain for the 100M is a bit more that 16,000 feet. So there's a lot of up and down.

A little background info:

I was actually born in Sturgis, and I have tons of family in the nearby vicinity, so this is sort of a homecoming race. I’m really looking forward to visiting family and the Black Hills, while doing what I love. It will be a bit surreal, though. The race starts in a small park that I remember from summer visits to my Grandmother’s during my childhood. I remember Easter Egg hunts, and the time my cousin choked on a lifesaver and was given the Heimlich maneuver.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been back to visit family a number of times. On these visits, I ran on a lot of the course. On more than one occasion I thought to myself, “Someone should really put on an ultra around here. It’s beautiful”. Finally, someone felt the same way. It really is an ideal location. Plus, I get to run past the ‘town’ of Nemo along the way. I love that place. It’s my favorite fishing spot on the planet, as well as the namesake of one of my best friends.

Nemo on the right. He is NOT named after the fish. Nemo's dog, Floyd, is on the left.

Predictions/What to expect:

This is the inaugural running of this race, but I have no doubt the team of RD’s have their shit together. I have no concerns about that. My dad will be my crew. He’s an ex-pat, so I will be kept to a tight schedule. My friend Luke will be my pacer for all 50 of the last miles. Luke’s a fast runner and a good friend, but we tend to make some ill-advised decisions when we go running sometimes. We’ll make for an interesting team for sure.

As far as a prediction. I’ll just say I’m hoping for a 100M PR. That means I’m hoping to run faster than I did in Leadville last year. The lower elevation will be in my favor, and there’s slightly less climbing, but the course should overall be more technical. It also has the possibility of being much hotter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 90 degrees out there.

What I’m really looking forward to is seeing my Grandpa at the finish. The Old-timer has promised to stay up and watch me finish. I’ll try my best not to keep him up too late.

Me and my Grandpa Bud (I let him borrow a pair of overalls for the picture).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Golden Gate Dirty Thirty Race Executive Summary

(Photo: Woody)

I raced the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty a couple weeks back. It was a local race. I signed up for it on a whim, and really didn’t give it much thought until a day or so before the race. The timing kind of sucked, as it was stuck between a 50M race and my impending 100M race. Nevertheless, I knew the course was amazing, and I had a lot of friends running, so I couldn’t really help myself.

Being so close to home, it didn’t
require any substantial travel or an overnight stay. The downside to that was I had to set my alarm for 3:45 am to make it to the race on time.

Some quick notes (not necessarily highlights):

-With about 10 minutes until race time, the lines for the porta-potties were long. I was forced to go on a bushwhacking excursion to poop in the woods before the race. Great start to the morning.

-This is one of the first races where I will openly admit that I probably ran too fast for the first half. At one point I was in 5th place. I finished in 15th.

-At mile 20 I felt a tremendous urge to stop on the side of the trail and take a nap.

-At mile 21 I took an gnarly fall, flying forward on the trail, and of all things, ripping off the tip of my pinkie. Merely a flesh wound, but it bled profusely.

-Finishing time was 5:30:18. Those 18 seconds really piss me off.

-Great time chilling by the creek enjoying some beers with friends post race.

-Weird “only happens to an ultrarunner moment of the day: stood in the bathroom of the Ogden during a concert that night, attempting to superglue the tip of my finger together so I wouldn’t bleed everywhere.

Pre-race discussions with JT. Probably discussing beer or my recent bathroom excursion. (Photo: Anton )

Early in the Race
(Photo: Woody)

A couple seconds later.
(Photo: Anton )

Finishing & watching those precious 18 seconds run off the clock.
(Photo: Woody)

That's right. An Ambulance, for my cut pinkie. Quite the contrast to this guy. (Photo: Woody)

...and he walked off into the distance....with a cooler full of beers.
(Photo: Woody)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend Fun

A local radio station was doing a promo called “Barrel of Monkeys” all weekend. It’s a good description for my weekend as well. My running has been all over the place lately. I had just finished a 50M the weekend before, a 50k was on the agenda the next weekend, and I have a 100M in a month. So I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to recover, taper, or train hard. I decided just to do whatever seemed like fun.


I was supposed to do some sort of hill repeat workout thing on Guanella Pass with some running buddies on Saturday. We figured we’d drive as high as possible, then run down and back up and such. Surprisingly, we reached the top of the pass & Mt. Bierstadt was within sight only 3M away, with what looked like a manageable amount of snow on it. Our trip quickly turned into a summit trip instead of a run. We quickly found out that the snow might not be so “manageable”, but we stubbornly hiked, ran, post-holed, crawled, crab-walked, and butt-slid (glissaded for you stuffy mountaineers) up and down the peak. We had the summit to ourselves and were soaking wet upon our return to the car, but it might possibly have been one of the funnest 14er trips I’ve ever embarked on.
Becca and Leila rationalizing that the snow doesn't seem too bad

Becca and demonstating that, in fact, the snow was that bad

Thumbs up to snowy 14er summits to yourself


14er fever took over and I decided I should knock off another early season front range peak. The plan was to drive to Echo Lake, run 9+ miles a bit past summit lake, then strap on some snowshoes to hike up the steep 1+ mile snowy NE side of Mount Evans. However, I decided to sleep in a bit too late and didn’t get up to Mt. Evans Road until noonish. Plan B was to drive to the nature center three miles up the road, cutting six total miles off the round trip. Plan B went off without a hitch. Again, I had the summit to myself. Lots of cars though, and lots of snow. Some of the ledges from the snowplows were over 15 feet high. For my “glissade” down the snowy slope, I put my snowshoes on my hands for steering and breaking. I may or may not have walked around talking to myself pretending to be Edward Snowshoe Hands. High on life, I made it back to Denver and imbibed in several drinks until the wee hours of Monday morning.
Steep Snow slog up the NE side of Mt. Evans
Taking a breather near the top

Mt. Evans Summit

Obligatory "Lot's of snow on the roads" shot.


Man, I’m dumb sometimes. I grew up in Boulder, therefore I feel the need to run the BolderBoulder if I’m in town. The race starts at 7am in Boulder, and parking and a bus ride are involved to get to the starting line. What this all boils down to is a 4:45am wake up call. Needless to say, I was in bad shape. Luckily I had a carpool set up, otherwise I would have stayed in bed pouting. We stopped by a Starbucks for coffee, and as we left, the barista’s parting words to me were: “Have fun at the BolderBoulder. You’ll be fine, even people in wheelchairs finish it”.

EDIT: I've been told to mention that I assumed an alter-ego for this race. His name is Reuben. He's kinda surly and rude, and apparently isn't a very fast runner.

Prerace Warm-up. (Backseat napping, Iced Coffee, Gu Chomps)

I won’t get into the details. I didn’t have a watch or anything. I ran 39:30, though it felt like I ran 37:30. I did not puke, which I am quite proud of. It was speculated that I may have had some beer or even donuts during the race. Unfortunately, I have to deny these claims. The mere sight of beer during the race made my stomach turn. I was well enough to get part of my pre-8 o’clock Michelob Ultra down though after the race. But no scotch. Then I laid around by a pool all morning and afternoon moaning.
Post BB with Katelyn and Jess

Great weekend all around!

Here are some bonus photos from a trail run in the Minnesota River Basin from 10 days ago:

I had planned on crossing the river at this bridge, but it is permanently closed

I'm not metallurgist (okay, I am), but these steel beams might have something to do with the bridge closing.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Jemez 50M Race Report

I'm often asked how I can run for 10+ hours without getting bored out of my mind. Races like Jemez make me laugh when asked such questions. This race is quite literally a rollercoaster of a ride, including climbs that give you no option but to bear down and put one foot in front the other, downhills that literally take a leap of faith to get down, absurdly technical terrain, burn areas, and even a dusting of snow.

I ran the Jemez 50K last spring, and even though I finished 2nd and had a great day, I left Los Alamos feeling like I'd missed out on the adventure. I'd heard stories of the caldera, the “butt slide” descent, and the double black ski slope decent. By the time I got in the car last year, I knew that I'd be back to see what all of the hype was about. My experience this year did not disappoint.

I carpooled down to the race on Friday afternoon with my good friend Jeremiah. He was going to run the 50K, however a slower-than-ideal recovery from his previous 50M race a few weeks back turned him into road trip buddy/race volunteer. I was also lucky enough to have a nice free couch to call my bed for the weekend, as an old college friend, Hunter, now resides down in Los Alamos. The drive down was uneventful - lots of catching up on NPR podcasts. We took 285 down, and I have to say CO is looking quite beautiful right about now. It's awfully green, and all the mountains have plenty of snow on them. Friday night consisted of the typical packet pick-up, dinner, beer, catching-up, overly planning and packing for the race in the morning, and then setting an alarm clock for a painfully early wake-up.

That wake-up was at 4am. I lubed, sunscreened, coffeed, clothed, honey stinger waffled, drove, parked, port-a-pottied, and checked-in. By 5am, we were racing.

Honey Badger Good Luck Charm given to me Pre-race.

Since it was only 5am, we actually needed headlamps at the start of the race. I intentionally brought the worst one I had for two (2) reasons: 1) I didn't want to lose a good one, and 2) the crappy light from my headlamp would force me to hang in the crowd at the start of the race instead of going out too fast. I found myself hanging onto the back of a group of runners (who I gathered later were Los Alamos XC alumni) led by sage of ultra-running, Blake Wood.

Sunrise in the Jemez Mountains

As we headed up the first of the four major climbs, the sun came out and the group broke up as each person chose his own climbing pace. I only over-ran one switchback on the first descent (an improvement over last year). A running friend, Brenden, came running by on the downhill looking relaxed and speedy. I could tell he was going to have a good day. About 2/3 of the way up the Caballo Mountain, Nick Clark came hauling down at an astonishing clip. It would be at least 10 minutes before I saw the 2nd place runner. I couldn't believe he had such a lead already. It was likely going to be a lonely day for him. After grunting up to the top of Caballo, I stopped to snap a photo, and got heckled by the volunteers as this was supposed to be a race. The view was just too good to pass up. I counted runners coming back down and estimated I was in 8th place at the top of the Mountain. I cranked “Sleigh Bells” on my ipod and started the descent back down Caballo. This stretch was a blast: the music was perfect for the situation, the downhill was steep, fun, and runnable, and I got to hi-five several friends as we crossed paths.

Rounding the tree at the top of Caballo. By the end of the day I will have ran up and down that ski hill in the background

Another four miles or so got me to the pipeline aid station (AS). When you look at the elevation profile you see four distinct climbs. These four miles go un-noticed on paper, but they are tough. The AS was a drop-bag location. I ditched my long sleeve and all warm clothes and grabbed a handful of gels and headed off. I was quite excited, as up until this point the 50K course had followed essentially the same route. It was off into the unknown, and it started off with a ludicrously steep plummet into an old volcano caldera. I went bold off the bat and just kept moving my legs as a means of survival. I'm sure I looked like an out of control ball of dust rolling down the mountain to any outsider. I was.

The next four miles or so were probably the most runnable miles of the entire course, and runners ran. I got passed I think four times along this stretch. I thought I was going at quite a respectable, not quite-lead-runner-ahead-of-the-pack, above-average pace. These people were hammering it. I wasn't going to follow them.

The nice runnable scenic caldera stretch ended abruptly. A quarter mile cross country trek through clumpy, annoying grasslands led to the hardest climb of the day. This climb was not runnable. In fact, it was so steep that even if it had been paved, I would have been reduced to a walk. Just to make sure nobody tried to run up the climb, the race course continued straight up the mountain, across a rock garden, and through more of those clumpy grass heaps. Good times. Luckily, the view at the top made the climb more than worth it.

The Caldera

Un-runnable clumps of grass

The reward for getting through the clumpy section. Rocks, lots of Rocks.

Then it was straight down another technical downhill. An amazing amount of work went into clearing this trail. Thank you to all the volunteers who likely spent several days chain sawing through fallen trees. After running down a valley, I came to the Pajarito canyon aid station. I chugged a couple Cokes and headed out, back uphill.

After several miles I found myself at a spot on the trail that crossed a paved road. This is the moment we all knew was coming: I was lost. I couldn't find the trail or any markings. There was some chalk on the ground heading off in a line to my left, so I ran on the road to the left. Still no markings 100 yards up. This is when I should have turned around, but I just couldn't help trying to see what was around the next curve. Another guy was following me as well. I don't mind getting lost (I might actually enjoy it a bit), but I felt bad assisting another runner in getting lost. We wandered around walking with our hands in the air as we slowly kept looking for markings. Maybe a quarter mile into my road foray, I saw course markings several yards above the road. I waved the other runner to come check it out. We were back on course, but had obviously walked on the road instead of following the intended trail that paralleled the road. What to do? We decided that in all likelihood we had gone further than the intended route to get to this point, and had walked all of it like confused idiots. We definitely hadn't benefited from our idiocy. We agreed to proceed on the trail in the correct direction to the next AS, which was maybe a half mile away. When we got there we informed the AS personnel of our detour. They seemed cool with it, so we proceeded with the race. This other guy was Rick, a 24 year old 50K? rookie. He killed it. I lost track of him shortly after the AS, and never saw him again. Quite a debut.

Soon I found myself on the last major climb of the race, up Pajarito Mountain. I should mention that I'd lost all interest in eating gels, or any food for that matter, before this climb started. With the exception of Coke and HEED, I didn't have any calories the last 20 miles of the race. Anyhow, I was feeling good on the climb, and actually started reeling in quite a few runners on the way up the ski mountain. By the time I reached the top, I think I was in 7th place, my highest placing all day. Then they sent us straight down a ski hill, a double black ski run to be exact. I managed not to fall, and was soon at the ski lodge drinking more Coke.

The ski hill I had to run down. Whoopsy Daisy.

I was once again in familiar territory, as the remaining 14 miles of the course are shared with the 50K course. This was also nice because I had a lot more company on the trail now. For some stupid reason I stopped at the Pipeline AS to grab more gels, even though I already had plenty and had no intention of eating any of them. I got passed by Blake Wood as this was all going down, and he was out of sight in no time. He'd end up finishing over 18 minutes before me. I'd get passed by one other runner as well.

As I approached the last AS with two miles to go, I knew I wasn't catching anybody in front of me, and, to be honest, I didn't really care if someone else passed me. So, when offered a cup of beer I didn't even hesitate to imbibe. It was Fat Tire, and it tasted great. Thirty minutes later I was done. Finishing in 9th place in 10:18. Decent. Not great, not a disaster. I really enjoyed the time out on the trail.

The afternoon consisted of a few sips of post-race scotch, and several beers as I socialized with friends and racers. I got a cool little pot for finishing. We sat around in the sun for several hours soaking up the great weather and atmosphere. The rapture came and went. No earthquake. We headed to Santa Fe for some great food, but I had no appetite. Then I spent the majority of the night tossing and turning and in general being wide awake. You gotta love what ultra-running does to your body. I was starving and exhausted, but was neither hungry nor sleepy. Overall, it was another great weekend.

Post Race Scotch. I'm hoping that I will actually acquire a taste for this soon, but don't I look sophisticated?

Pre-Rapture beer. Russian River's Salvation Ale.

I was actually raptured, but they didn't have any beer up there, and I was enjoying myself so much before, that I asked to be un-raptured.

End of the Report

Post Script with Feelings and Thoughts (read at your own risk-and don't judge)

This was a weird race for me. Don't get me wrong, I am content with how it went. Here's the thing- I didn't try my hardest. At times, I was racing, but in general I didn't care enough to really lay it all out there. I let people pass me without a thought of trying to hold them off. I think of myself as a pretty competitive person, but I certainly wasn't on that day. The lack of soreness in my legs goes to show that I didn't put myself through enough pain to achieve the best result possible.

I like to think I have a good grip on reality when it comes to this stuff. I'll admit, I'm not a bad ultra-runner. I'm faster than most. BUT, I'm not really that great. Another runner ran this race over 2 hours faster than me. That's a lot of time. I struggle with the idea that I should get all worked up with trying to beat a person out for 9th place. It would be different if it were 1st or 3rd place. Winning races would be great, but it's not likely going to happen. I get it.

So, I find myself wondering why I do races at all if I'm not trying to win them, and could care less if I finish 4th or 30th. I guess the answer is I like the idea of getting together with friends who like the same insane hobby that I do, and running in incredibly scenic locations. I don't need to enter races to do this though, so you may see a trend of less racing from me. I promise I'll keep the adventure level high, maybe just more unstructured stuff where I don't have to worry about the repercussions for getting lost.

Did I mention how beautiful CO is right now? Snow on the peaks, green everywhere else.