Thursday, June 30, 2011

Black Hills 100K

The trip last weekend to the Black Hills 100K last weekend was a memorable one.  It was a great trip, good times with friends, and came away inspired by people toughing it out on the trail - especially those 100 milers.  They are tough.

The best part of this trip for me was the road trip and seeing friends accomplish more than they ever would have imagined not long ago.  It was a great showing for Minnesota runners:  Adam Schwartz-Lowe won the 100 mile in an incredible performance and fast time on the course of 23:01, John Horns won his first 100K in 11:18, and Helen had another win in the 100K.  There were a bunch of others from the Twin Cities who represented MN as well.  And of course Western States was going on at the same time, and I’m proud of my good buddy Arley for gutting it out to the finish on a tough day.  I’m not sure if he is able to walk again quite yet, but I know he’s glad he finished.

As for the race itself for me, it was not exactly a confidence-builder.  My hope going into this one was to get in some really good training and have fun with it, run steady and finish strong, and see how I felt over 5,000 feet (about the same elevation as Cascade Crest 100 in August). The first half was about what I expected at around 5:20.  The second half was about 7:17.  That pretty much sums up how that went.

To be honest, I’ve been a little frustrated the last few days trying to figure out what went wrong and how I am going to not crash and burn at Cascade Crest in 8 weeks.  I think I’ve had enough miles of thinking to come to a few realizations now though:

  1. I’m always good for an epic bonk one or two times a year – and maybe that’s not such a bad thing when training for a 100 miler.
  2. I’ve learned a million times more from the toughest runs than from the best ones.
  3. I might not ever figure out exactly what it is I’ve learned, but I just need to trust that I’m better off because of it.

The race was an out and back course starting and finishing on the Woodle Field track in Sturgis, and venturing through the Black Hills on the Centennial Trail.  The course was challenging and a lot of fun to run –constant long climbs and descents, lots of great single track trail, five river crossings each way, and great views of the Black Hills.  The weather was not as hot as I expected – maybe around 80 degrees – but definitely warm enough to make those five river crossings on the way back feel really good.

I went out behind the lead 50 milers but in front of the lead 100 milers.  After the first mile of track and bike path, I kept it fairly steady and not too fast through most of the first half, and was hoping to be able to even split or close.  I could tell by the time I got to the mile 25 mark or so that it was going to be a long day though.  John caught up to me about a mile before the mile 29 aid station, and we were together until just after the turn-around point.  He had a great race and kept it real steady.  I had a feeling he was going to have a great race based on all the training and hill repeats I’ve seen him do…I’m excited for him that everything came together!

As for me, the trek back to Sturgis felt more like the last 50K of a 100 miler than the last half of a 100K.  My legs actually felt pretty good the whole way, but my biggest problem was breathing normally and having to work way too hard for how slow I was going.  I was short of breath most of the last half of the race, and when I stopped at the aid stations it felt like I had the wind knocked out of me – definitely wasn’t getting enough oxygen through me.  This was one of those days where the accomplishment was getting across the finish line at all – and that I guess I am happy with.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but part of me is wondering if I’m cut out for this running above 4,000 feet stuff.  I’ve got a couple months now to figure it out, so hopefully I’ll pull myself together.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to some Minnesota training for the rest of the summer!

Here are a few pictures from the race and the trip...

50 Mile, 100K, and 100 Mile all started on the track in Sturgis, SD.
Running with Todd Gangelhoff from CO at about mile 5.
Todd went on to win the 50 miler in 8:05...great guy.
Adam Schwartz-Lowe with his hardware from his 100
mile victory!  I was honored to carpool with the Champ!
They do exist!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lesson from CO: Stay in MN

A couple weeks ago, Arley and I departed on our adventure out to Colorado to visit Joe.  We were planning on a Saturday race at the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50K, and a bunch of training in the days to follow for Arley's last push before Western States.

The good news and all that matters is that Arley is ready to rock at Western States next weekend, and the first half of the trip was great!  The bad news is that the second half of the trip was a miserable reminder of why I belong here in Minnesota where there is significantly more oxygen.

Golden Gate Dirty Thirty
My flight landed in Denver at about 9pm on the Friday, and after a short night's sleep at Joe's, we headed over to the race start at Golden Gate Canyon State Park bright and early on Saturday.  We picked up our friend Troy along the way, and checked in at the start for the 6am race.  I don't think any of us had very high expectations for this race, but were hoping to just keep it steady and get a great training effort in if nothing else.  The advertised 7,800 feet of climbing and equal descent (all between 7,500 and 9,500 feet) was pretty intimidating for this flat-lander.

All the race pictures are by Woody Anderson.
From the sound of it, I was expecting this to be by far the hardest 50K I've ever run.  As it turned out, those expectations were about right.  I finished in 5:39 and in 19th place overall.  Here's the Garmin data for the race.

I was most worried at about 4 miles into the race.  I remember looking to Joe and saying it's going to be a really long day.  You're not supposed to feel terrible at the beginning of an ultra - the legs just felt like lead.  I think my 4th mile took over 14 minutes.  I was pretty sure I was going to be hiking most of the course.

It continued to be pretty rough for the first 15-20 miles.  I was pretty frustrated right around the halfway point when I clammering over these huge boulders and spending more time trying to figure out where to step next than I did moving.  Thank goodness the course got less technical for the last half.  After that section, things actually felt better as the race went along.  There was a huge climb for two miles at about mile 25 or so that I felt fairly steady on, then it was mostly downhill from there to the finish.

Beautiful views the whole way...snow-capped peaks in the distance.
All in all, my time was about what I expected based on times from previous years at this race.  The biggest surprise though was how deep the field was.  I passed a handful of people in the last half, but considering how I finished feeling good and how many were ahead of me, I thought for sure I would have passed more.  There are just a whole lot of really good runners out West.  It's definitely a different ball-game out there in the mountains...those guys and gals are fast.

The Rest of the Trip:
We spent Saturday afternoon after the race enjoying a few beers at Golden's 2nd largest brewery - the very tiny and very tasty Golden City Brewery.  Then spent the evening eating pizza and a ridiculous amount of frozen yogurt.

On Sunday we ran the 7 mile Apex Loop right behind Joe's house, went shoe shopping for Arley, went to Hangover 2, played tennis (all of us were equally bad), and even drove up and saw Buffalo Bill's Grave!  We still don't really know what Buffalo Bill did, but we did clarify that he is not the same guy as Wild Bill.

Even though this was right next to Buffalo Bill's grave, we're fairly certain
Buffalo Bill was not actually a Buffalo.
Then on Monday, we made the trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.  We did an awesome 10 mile or so run near Estes Park - the Lumpy Ridge Loop.  Even saw a bunch of big Elk and was a beautiful trail.

Moose sighting! On the short drive back into Estes Park right after our run.
After lunch, we drove up Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, and turned around just past the high point of over 12,000 feet.  There was still an unbelievable amount of snow up there - it was actually the first day the road was open for the season.  I'm glad we went up there...there were some beautiful views of the mountains.  Although I'm pretty sure that's what finished me off.

Joe and Arley in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Great views of the snowy Rocky's above the tree line.
Altitude Sickness is Miserable.
By the time we got back to Joe's house on Monday, the altitude was taking its toll.  I was completely exhausted, couldn't eat, and would find myself laying in bed for the next two days and missing the climb up Pike's Peak that Joe and Arley did the next day.  I knew altitude sickness could happen to anyone and that it could get pretty bad, but I had never been nearly that sick in my life.  It was pretty miserable.  I didn't really eat for three days, lost over 8 pounds, and took a few days to get the energy and appetite back.  I even had to take three days completely off from running.  And I really don't like taking days off...first time off since sometime back in October.

I have been told by some runners who are much smarter than me that if you don't take a break, at some point your body will find a way to force you to take a break.  I think that's sort of what happened here.  I had 14 weeks in a row of pretty consistently hard training, so I think I was maybe walking that fine line of how much is too much.  In the end, I think it was probably a really good thing to be forced to take some time off.  And getting sick is a million times better than an injury, so I am quite grateful for that.

Needless to say, I don't have any desire to run out in CO again anytime soon, but I'm sure I'll be talked into giving it another shot sometime sooner than later.  Besides, I have to run up Pike's Peak since I bailed this time.  In the meantime, I'm just going to hang out here in Minnesota and try to stay below 1,000 feet.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Superior 50K

For the handful of you all that actually read any of this, I'm starting to wonder if you're tired of reading about my running adventures two weeks after they happen.  I guess it's sort of like reading old newspapers, which isn't any fun.  Sorry about that.

Anyway, since the next big adventure begins when my flight leaves for Colorado in a couple hours, I figured it's high time I jot down a quick synopsis of the last couple weeks and the Superior 50K on May 21.

I really had three goals for Superior in this my third time running the race:

  1. Don't take a wrong turn.
  2. Avoid completely falling apart on the last section.
  3. Run it faster than last year.
The first one wasn't really so hard and just required a bit more paying attention than last year.  The second one I have never had any luck with on that trail.  The third one put my goal time at around 4 hours - give or take 5 minutes (last year's time was 4:08).  The recovery from the Canyon double-crossing two weeks before was a little slow, but turned a corner quickly and I actually felt really good the week before the race.

I found myself starting out the race with Lundo and Dimitri as expected, but what wasn't expected was a guy we didn't know named Josh from Indiana passing us a couple miles in.  I wasn't too interested in trying to keep pace with him since its a long, tough race, especially since Chris and Dimitri weren't either, so we cruised along together for the first couple sections.  The pace felt pretty fast for me, but didn't want to let those guys go on ahead quite yet.  And it was fun having the company!  We all separated a bit on the last couple miles up to the turn-around, but not by more than a minute or so.  

When I hit the turn in 4th place at 1:55 just under course record pace, I knew I was a little in over my head.  But knowing how hard that course is, I also had a feeling like I probably wasn't the only one.  I definitely stopped caring about pace and place after the turn, and more started keeping it steady and enjoying my favorite place in the world to run.  I thought if I could finish steady (not even real fast, but steady), I'd have a good shot at catching one of those guys before the finish.

As it turned out, I caught up with Josh from Indiana on the first big climb of the last section, and passed Dimitri on the second climb in the same place I was passed by Joe last year.  This put me in 2nd place and on pace to get close to 4:00...and I knew Lundo would be at least 10 minutes ahead of me, so wasn't worried about him at all.

It ended up being a positive split race by over 10 minutes, but was still really happy with it and encouraged to keep it relatively steady and finish feeling great.  I finished in 4:01:14, so next time the goal will have to be to sneak in under 4:00 somehow.  Always good to have something to shoot for!

Up Next - Colorado Training Weekend!
Now I'm about 13 hours from the next 50K - Golden Gate Dirty Thirty in Colorado with Joe and Arley.  This one's going to be crazy hard - 9,000 feet of climbing and at up to 9,000 feet of altitude (a lot for this Minnesotan).  It's going to be more of a training effort than a race, but should be fun either way.  Hopefully it won't take me two weeks to tell some good stories from adventures in CO!