Sunday, March 27, 2011

Buffalo Run 50 Miler Race Report

Time: 8:02:39
Place: 11th, Overall

There has been a lot of anticipation for this race. I've felt that there were a lot of high expectations for me, not counting those that I had for myself. I thought I had put in a proper amount of training, I put together a great race plan, and was focused on just doing the best I could.

I met my friend Kelli at a pre-planned location at 4:15am and we drove up to Antelope Island. She was very nervous as this was her first 50 miler and because she is such a good marathoner people have really been feeding her with unrealistic expectations. I've been trying to keep her head focused on the right things for the last couple of weeks and it seemed that as we were driving up she was feeling better about her abilities and running the distance.

We rolled into the race parking area, about 200 yards away from the start tents, a little earlier. It was cold out, about 32 degrees. We knew it would be a chilly start. Weather forecasts for the day had varied considerably throughout the last week, but we were confident it was going to be ok. And was it!!! We made our way down to the heated tents, got checked in, and hung out with friends. Just prior to the start we stayed near the fire and only went over to the starting line a few minutes before go-time. I'm not sure how it worked out, but I was in the very front. Kelli stood right behind me.

6am - GO!

White Rock - Split Rock Loop
The elites took off like a shot. Kelli's gameplan was just to hang on my heels for as long as possible and then try and keep me in her sights the rest of the time. As we worked our way up the first hill Kelli asked me to tell her a story and I shared the one of me jumping off a cliff into a tree (you heard right). We weren't far behind the elites but were putting some good distance between us and the rest of the main pack. As we hit the top of the first 2 mile climb we caught up to someone I recognized, Josh. He and I have followed each others blogs for some time now and I got to meet him the last time I was out on the island. I think he's going to be a very good running friend, for sure. The three of us ran together across the ridge above White Rock valley and then cruised down the hill, into the valley, and towards Lone Tree hill. Nearly across the valley we were quickly passed by 3 of the elites who had said four of them had taken a wrong turn (where was the fourth?). They shot up the hill like rockets while the three of us slowed to a walk. We weren't about to blow our legs out this early. Towards the top we moved back into the trot and hit the Elephant Head aid station at mile 5.5 in just about 50 minutes.

We didn't stop, cruised right on by, and aimed ourselves down the steep hill towards Split Rock. Josh and I held back, only running a 6:30 min/mile while Kelli wasn't far behind. In the bottom of the valley Duncan Callahan sped by, the fourth elite who took a wrong turn. We shared pleasantries, wished him luck, then put our heads down and started up the switchbacks.  How I love those switchbacks. We dropped Kelli a ways back at this point and were back around to Elephant Head aid station at mile 10.65 in 1:36:40.

Again, Josh and I didn't stop and headed out on the out and back. There were dozens of slower runners who were doing the out and back first. Like an idiot I was yelling "slap hands, slap hands" and giving everyone five. At the far end we grabbed our stickers, turned around, and headed back. I had been eating a gel every 30 minutes on the clock and had just now taken my first salt pill. Everything was working like it should. Within a quarter mile heading back we ran passed Kelli and urged her to push on. She hadn't felt strong up to that point, but shared with us that she finally found her groove. Yah.

Once back at the Elephant Head aid station I stopped to refill on gels and drop my headlamp. Josh kept running and while I would continue to keep him in my sights for most of the race I wouldn't really talk to him again except in passing on the remaining out and backs. I left Elephant Head for the last time at just under 2 hours, mile 13.4. I cruised back down into White Rock valley and spied Bryce not far ahead with Josh just ahead of him. I had to stop for a potty break on the ridge and the boys put more distance on me. As I came back around towards the White Rock aid station near the start/finish I was still able to keep them close, however, and made the turn to head towards the east side of the island after a very brief stop to refill my water bottle and give a friend a hug. I made the whole first loop 18.85 miles in 2:42:21, more than 2 minutes faster than any training run and almost 20 minutes ahead of schedule. But I was tired.

East Side Out and Back
Heading out towards the east side of the island I was still in good spirits and felt strong even though I my legs were feeling fatigued. Down the steep hill we all make a left turn for a short out and back to the marina. It was muddy and gross on the way out, but it was worth it because there was a port o potty at the end of the trail, something I greatly needed. After a 3 minute stop I was back on the trail and feeling much better. Kelli wasn't far behind me and Josh and Bryce were still within sight. However, heading out to Lower Frary aid station things began to fall apart. Around mile 25 my quads just began to ache and I couldn't get my legs to push anything faster than a 9:15 pace. In short, I was hurting. I rolled into Lower Frary aid station at mile 27.5 in 4:10:00. Bryce was there. I asked him how he was doing and he said he as probably going to drop. He has battling a cold the last few days and it was reeking havoc on his lungs. I told him I was really hurting and was thinking about calling it quits myself. He encouraged me to press on to the Ranch and see how I felt there. Unfortunately, the aid station workers at this particular stop weren't of much help and I wasted valuable time finding my own drop bag, refilling my bottle, and getting everything back together. Maybe they just felt busy.

But I headed out and as I peaked back over my shoulder I could see Bryce continuing on. The problem now was the best I could muster was an advanced run/walk. I'd run for a mile and a half and then walk for about a minute. As I crossed the road I slowed to a walk again and Bryce caught up. He confirmed that continuing on was a mistake and was definitely going to drop at the Ranch. I felt bad for him, but he had put up a great fight. I think he felt my desire to drop and gave me some words of encouragement. I think I figured at that point that if all that hurt were my legs I had no business dropping. But the mental side was tough. I knew my wife and boys would be waiting for me at the finish and I didn't want to make them wait. So I started back into a run. I hit the aid station, mile 33, in 5:08:30. I tried to make a quick stop and was back out. Bryce must have found his ride and left.

As I as leaving the aid station Kelli rolled in and met up with her husband Scott. I told her I was basically through and was just planning to run/walk to a very slow finish. Surprisingly, she said she kind of felt the same way. I assumed that it wouldn't be long before they caught up and passed me. But as I continued on I was able to only stop to walk twice before getting back to Lower Frary and Kelli and Scott didn't catch up again until I was through the aid station and heading out again towards the finish. While at Lower Frary I was talking to Scott and told him that I knew I would finish, but probably wouldn't make 8 hours, my goal for the race. Another runner who was there said if I could just keep up a 10 min/mile that I could still make it. I took some ibuprofen and drank some Pepsi and took off.

To my shock and surprise I was able to comfortably keep a 9:30 pace of much of the run back to the turn up the hill. I even ran all of the inclines and didn't stop to walk at all until I hit the aid station at the fence. I had even caught up and passed a guy in green who had passed me twice before. The climb out of the aid station is short, but really steep. I was looking forward to this climb not only because I could walk, but because I knew it would stretch out my legs. It was just what I needed. I was close to being back on schedule, I knew I would finish, and the thought of crossing the finish line and hugging my wife gave me new life. When I hit the pavement I was even singing out loud to some classic INXS. I then ran the short cross country down to Lakeside aid station, mile 36 in a total time of 7:24:47.

With four or fewer miles to go I had only 36 minutes to finish. With how I was feeling I just didn't think I had it in me to get under 8 hours, but I pushed on. The aid folks said I looked good and that helped. I love running the Lakeside loop, it is technical and winding. I do well in that kind of terrain. Twice I looked down at my watch to see that I was running a 9:40. Unfortunately, as I came around the west side my calves started to cramp up. I had to stop and stretch them. I hit the end of the single track with only 10 minutes left. I ran the little hill to the side road and went as fast as my legs could carry me. Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough and I crossed the finish line in 8:02:39. At the finish were my friends Scott and Matt, both had run the 50k and done very well. My wife didn't make it to see me finish but was there just minutes later. At the same time I saw her I was able to be at the finish line to welcome Kelli cross. She not only finished her first 50 miler, but she won it. WOW.

Final Thoughts
Did I reach my goal of 8 hours? You bet I did. I wasn't trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon or going after a 2 minute PR. In the ultra world and in my running anything within a few minutes of your goal time is the same as reaching it. Most often seconds don't matter, but minutes. 8:02 beat my previous best 50 miler by more than an hour. And I finished 10th overall out of more than 100 runners. It was the hardest race I've ever done, but I pushed through it, I finished, and I reached my goal on a mentally challenging course. I couldn't be happier.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Five Days and Counting

Well, my training is complete and I'm in full-on taper mode. I have never liked tapering. I thought it was supposed to make a person feel spunky and refreshed. I've felt nothing but tired and heavy. For some reason I feel like I'm just not recovering and ready to race. I've been doing a lot of rolling and stretching and hope that with a few shake-out runs this week that will all turn around.

The build up to this race has been like no training cycle I've ever had. I can't remember a time when I've actually built my mileage and long runs week over week for this long a time. You'd think with the workouts I've been doing that I was training for a road marathon and not a trail ultra. A lot of that focus has been on helping my friend Matt get ready for his first 50k. Until we started really 'training' the longest race he had ever done was a 10k and the longest run of any sort was only 13 miles. As a coworker and good friend I agreed to help him get ready for this 50k. That's a lie, I didn't agree, I coerced him to let me train him. It has been one of the funnest training cycles I've ever had. We've spent several days out on the race course, hitting up miserable snow covered trails along the bench, and running up the Dimple Dell recreation area more times than I can count.

This last week was spent trying to reduce my miles and recover some strength. However, I've felt tired and uninspired. I'm hoping it's a good thing and that it is now out of my system. I know I'm going to be ready to race, really race, come Saturday. The weather forecast as of right now is not great; snowy and rainy. But that's ok. I do well in poor conditions.

I have a good gameplan for the race and if I can stick with it I should be able to better my own expectations for this race. I'm ready.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Antelope Island Group Run

Today marked the last group run held out on Antelope Island before the race on March 26th. Between the four races offered approximately 750 people will toe the line ready to test themselves on the challenging terrain. I would say that at least 100 of them were out there today.

I met several friends at the gate, including Kelli and Scott, JD, Dan, Matt Williams and Brian Beckstead (co-founder of Altra Shoes). We met at 9am, a full hour behind Jim Skagg's scheduled group. However, when we got to the parking lot many of the runners from his group were just coming back from their first loop around the camp ground section. So we immediately saw others, including; Bryce, Jim himself, and Josh. We talked for far too long and then finally left. The temps were perfect and I had a goal to just go out nice and easy.

 Scott and Kelli around mile 1

Nice and easy never happened. We set a pretty good pace through the first two miles of uphill and cruised the next mile of flat. Then we hit the downhill into White Rock valley and I opened things up to stretch my legs. I had Dan, Matt, and Brian on my heels. Going into Lone Tree hill we passed another several runners, including Karl Meltzer. Normally I walk the Lone Tree hill, but this time I wanted to try and run it. You know what? It wasn't that bad. At the top of the hill is the turn-off to Elephant Head which we were taking. While we waited for everyone we ran into several more runners, including a friend from my training tracking website, Oreo. The runners from that site are the coolest group of people EVER. The run out to the point and back was fun. It is so beautiful out there.

Matt on the flat section above White Rock Valley

Kelli enjoying the technical Elephant Head out and back.

Back on the main trail we came to the massive downhill. Again, I opened things up and hit a 'best pace' of 4:13. Haha. We pulled back and cruised the rest of it before the switchbacks. We never ran more than a mile without passing other runners. The switchbacks were again great. I love those things. We kept a good pace up, for sure. This time I didn't drop Matt though. He was solid all day. On top we dropped into a comfy pace and just cruised back to the junction. I kept waiting to run into my good friend Davy Crockett, but we were always on a different part of the course. I'll have to save the comment I had about Ensure and Depends for him another time.
 Matt, Brian, and Dan finishing the switchbacks

The last three miles back to the start Dan and Brian really stepped things up, averaging a 7:30 pace on flat and even slightly uphill sections. Amazing. It was hard to keep up, but I did. We got back to the car, mile 18.9 in 2:44:00ish. Fast, much faster then I plan to run it in the race. But I felt good. And then we lingered . . . . and talked . . . . and laughed, as we ran into other runners finishing their day. Unfortunately, we lingered . . . and talked . . . and laughed way too long. So long that when we started running again my fueling was off, I was out of energy and my legs were tight. But still being in the best of company I couldn't complain too much (I definitely did a little). We cruised the back camp ground loop. Once I got over my fuel problems I felt good again, but then I started cramping in my left calf. I thought I was keeping up on my salt, but it mustn't have been enough. I fought it the rest of the way back to the car.

Once back we enjoyed some snacks and a few good laughs and we were off. It was an incredible day and set the perfect stage for my race there in three weeks. I'll have one more good week of training and then taper for two weeks. I've felt very good about this training build and I'm confident that the race will go well. It's also nice to have my weekly mileage back above 50. Now, if I can just get rid of this ankle tendinitis.

A few photos to enjoy.
The crew

Kelli and Scott at the point

Matt looking smug

Brian preaching to the choir

One last look at the switchbacks

And of course, no pics of me. It's really for the best.