Saturday, July 28, 2007

White River 50 Miler - Crystal Mountain, WA

I eagerly anticipated this race all year as certainly the toughest I have ever attempted. I did run the Bull Run 50 Miler in Virginia in April. But that was just my second ultramarathon, and my expectations then were only to survive. I didn't really try to "peak" for this race. I had actually been mostly just cycling after coming back from Colorado a couple weeks earlier, enjoying the late summer evenings and my new Trek Madone (the subject of another post).

The White River 50 Miler is the USATF national trail 50 mile championship. It is located smack in the heart of the elite ultrarunning community of Seattle. I had no illusions of placing highly in such august company. Legends such as Scott Jurek, Greg Crowther and budding legend Krissy Moehl were not doing this race (they would each be on hand of course) but they are still indicators of the level of talent that the northwest has in ultras. No, my goal for this race was just to run feeling strong and enjoying the mountains. This would also be the first time that my kids crewed for me. I wanted it to look fun for them, and looked forward to much longer rest stops than usual.

We drove down to Crystal Mountain on Friday evening. The race checkin was in the rustic Swiss-style Alpine Inn, where my kids and I always stay when we ski there. We've been there so many times that the resident cats know us and sneak into our rooms to sleep at night. So we of course made arrangements to stay there this weekend as well. The Alpine Inn has no TVs and small rooms, but is still one of our favorite places to stay anywhere.

Although we arrived after 8pm the volunteers were still handing out race packets. We picked up my number, as well as a technical shirt and some socks. After getting directions to the race start at Buck Creek, we repaired to the Snorting Elk restaurant in the Inn for a delicious pre-race meal.

The next morning we all rolled out of bed and drove to the race start at 6am. I downed a Powerbar C2Max before the race and drank some coffee that Rebecca had artfully scammed from the still not open Snorting Elk. There were several noshows at the race including Lon Freeman, which perhaps accounted for starting a few minutes late, at 6:33am. As with Bull Run, my plan was to take it easy for the first half and then see how I felt before really pushing it. So I started at the back of the pack and worked my way up gradually. After less than a half mile of fireroad we were deposited onto single track. We winded along the flat root-strewn single track, bordering the river for a couple miles until we emerged onto the highway. Shortly after the highway we reached Aid Station 1 at Camp Sheppard. Rebecca and the kids were waiting there. I picked up forgotten Advil and electrolyte tablets and now began the climb up the hill. I felt great and passed quite a few people on this climb. My altimeter read almost 6000 feet when we peaked just before Corral Pass. I reached Aid Station 2 at Corral Pass at mile 17 at around 9:45am. I hung around and drank Red Bull and ate salted potatoes for a few minutes, since I was so impressed that Rebecca and the kids had made it up the treacherous fireroad to meet me. A little before ten I took off back down the ridge. I wiped out on a rock on the slight descent. As usual, the sight of my own blood just woke me up and got me motivated. I comically starting growling fiercely and sprinting (so much for my leisurely run through the mountains). Who should I see running up mid-growl but Greg Crowther sweeping the course (I thought he gave up on trail running after Western States?).

Once we hit the woods again (around mile 20) descending down to the Ranger Creek water stop, a French guy passed me eager to bomb down the hill. Despite not normally being much of a descender I passed several others past Ranger Creek down towards the road across from the Buck Creek aid station (marathoners bonking?) At Buck Creek I sat for quite some time, eating potatoes, and drinking soup and Red Bull. This was probably a mistake as I got up quite stiff and sore. I took off at a walk/hobble despite being fine when I sat down. I guess the solution is to not sit ("beware the chair"). Its too bad, because it felt great when I was sitting there.

I was actually very relieved when we started climbing on singletrack again in earnest as I could powerwalk much nimbler than my sorelegged run. Although I ran the entire "first mountain" this one was steep enough that it seemed much better to walk most of it. We reached the aid station at Fawn Ridge at mile 31 (and 4200 feet) and I down downed more Coke and potatoes and pretzels. Yum. We were informed that it "just five more miles to the next aid and the summit" (actually it was closer to six). And just another 1000 feet up. At Sun Top, there was a large aid station set out with lots of enthusiastic volunteers. I hit this station at around 2:10pm. The legendary David Horton (PCT record holder and former Hard Rock winner) came in shortly afterward I did.

From this station, runners had to pound down six and a half miles to the last aid at Skookum Flats. The hardpack fireroad was brutal on the quads after such a long run. This is the one part of this course that I don't like.

I hit the last aid station at Skookum Flats at 3pm (8 1/2 hours into) with visions of a 9 1/2 hour finish flitting before me. After downing some sugar Red Bull and eating more potatoes that Lizzie fed me, I took off, again quite slowly to start. It was just 6.6 more miles so I thought I had a shot. But soon enough this river-fronting trail turned out to be reasonably technical. I figured out soon enough that I was not going to be running 8 minute miles at the end of this fifty miler. So I resolved to just enjoy the scenery of the south side of the White River, which I so often admired driving along 410 on the north side. I fell in with "Cougar Bait" who I had been running behind for the climb to Sun-Top. He said he thought he was bonking so I took off ahead. The last portion of this remains quite hilly in its "rolling" despite the mild looking appearance of its elevation profile. I came out of the trail onto the fireroad towards Skookum Flats for the final half mile. A cheering crowd including Rebecca and the kids helped me to finish with a fullon sprint in just under 9:50, good for 53rd, and the fifteenth masters runner.

I guess that sounds slow, but this course is a monster. I was within shouting distance of several far more accomplished ultra runners than I (David Horton finished six minutes earlier) I think 9:30 is doable once I'm more used to this distance. With the exception of my (presumably avoidable) stiffness after sitting at mile 27, I felt pretty good the whole time and never really suffered. Being able to run up and down mountains without massive pain is a life-enhancing gift. With the possible exception of the Golden Gate Headlands this course is the most beautiful I've done: almost all single-track, lots of climbing, a mixture of shaded forest paths and open mountain vistas. Once I've really learned endurance I can see myself focusing on this race and trying to do really well. It is definitely a climbers course and the downhills are not too terribly technical for my klutz-like self. Josh got Scott Jurek's autograph and we headed off to Enumclaw for a recovery dinner at Cafe Panini.

Monday, July 16, 2007

High Mountain 25K - Leadville CO

This was my third and last race on a weeklong excursion to Colorado. It was an interesting experiment as to whether a week stay at altitude would ever be able to acclimate me to racing in those conditions. After racing in Leadville and Vail the week before at over 10,000 feet, and training most of the week on Pike’s Peak I hoped to be able to race well in this Leadville-based ultra. It would be tough. The race starts at 10,000 feet and climbs to over 12,000 feet several times during the race. Last year I had done the 25K, suffered quite a bit at elevation, but finished in 2:57, and 18th overall, which I was satisfied with at the time. This year I planned on doing the 50K ultra. I would have been happy with anything under 6:30 in the ultra.

Rebecca dropped me off at the race start at 7:30. We ran into Dale Reicheneder, who was there to compete in the 25K and add points to his 2007 Trophy Series total. Amanda the race director sent us off at 8:00am. We ran down a wide trail eventually coming to a wide rocky uphill path amidst some woods. This let out onto a road that ran down to Turquoise Lake. We made a left on the road until we got to the marker for the singletrack trail that ran alongside the lake. I then settled in to 6 miles of little rollers that bordered Turquoise Lake. Eventually those ran out into a path that ran up through a campground away from the lake. After half a mile of asphalt we came to the one and only aid station. I hit it at 1:20 about the same time as last year. I was consciously going slow knowing that some brutal hills were coming up after the aid station. And that I wanted to do 50K this year.

After the aid station, the asphalt road continues and then racers turn off to the left onto a dirt road which hits a trailhead on the Colorado Trail. The trailhead opens on to some semi-technical single track. And then the relentless climbing begins. The race climbs over 2,000 feet above the lake area, continuously rising at sometimes brutal steepness. Finally it lets out back onto fireroad at the apex. From there it runs mostly downhill (with a few steep uphills thrown in) on a wide fireroad under the power lines for several miles. It then lets out onto Route 5A about half a mile from the High Mountain Institute. I hate that asphalf. You turn left off of the road into the field that fronts the institute. I came into the halfway point at 2:59:18.

I got a new bottle of Perpetuem from Rebecca and headed back out on the loop counterclockwise the way we came in. Its nice the way you hit the uphill right away, leaving the flats to the end. I actually like climbing and enjoyed the uphill. But I was reduced to powerhiking as I had started to really feel the altitude. I passed Dale going downhill to finish the 25K on the beginning of the climb. He had run off course by several miles.

Once I hit the top I bombed down the singletrack at speed, feeling good musclewise (no soreness), but starting to to have irregular breathing, something that never happens to me at sea level. I came out of the trailhead and down the asphalt road to the aid station near mile 24 by 5:05. Rebecca was waiting there. She heard from Dale that I had asked for Advil and showed up to provide it. I sat down and drank some coke, ate some pretzels, and took the Advil. Once I got up I was very sore and stiff and could barely run. I really should have just stopped right there. I ran/walked for a couple miles but didn't really have it in me to finish. I called Rebecca to meet me at one of the parking areas along the lake that we had hiked yesterday. We drove to the start/finish area and I told Amanda to just mark me down for the 25K at 2:59.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Vail Hill Climb - Vail CO

This 7.5 mile race climbs up the slopes of Vail Mountain in Vail. Its quite a popular race with around five hundred participants. Its been held for 31 years, and many of the participants spoke of doing it more than a dozen times. It reminded me a lot of California races like the Santa Cruz Firecracker I had just done and the Great Race 4 miler from Saratoga to Los Gatos.

Normally, an uphill only race would be exactly the kind I would want to do. I was still not acclimated though. I took it relatively easy up the hill and just tried to keep constantly running. I finished in 1:21:59.

There was quite a festival atmosphere at the top of the hill. I enjoyed the race refreshments and picked up my shirt, before riding the gondola back down to Vail village.

I plan to be here next year over the Fourth of July for races and Leadville Trail 100 training. I'll do the race again and it will be at the end of a week of acclimation. I'd hope to go around 1:10 with those conditions.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Leadville Trail Heavy Half Marathon - Leadville CO

This race kicked off a week of vacationing and racing in Colorado. I planned to do this race, the Vail Hill Climb the next day, and the High Mountain 50K also in Leadville the following week. In the interim we planned to visit Manitou Springs and run Pike's Peak every morning, partially to train for next month's Pike's Peak Ascent.

I had no high expectations for this first race after flying in the night before with no time to acclimate. The race starts in downtown Leadville at an elevation of over 10,000 feet and goes up to Mosquito Pass from there. Indeed I was quite lightheaded at the start. I took my time and enjoyed the scenery. The streets of Leadville turned into fireroad which continued for quite some time. After several miles we hit some single track and kept climbing. We passed a number of snowdrifts and ran past spectactular wildflowers. I ended up not following the full marathon signs and got caught up in the half marathon. It was still quite challenging, and I felt lucky to finish in 3:07.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Santa Cruz Firecracker 10K - Santa Cruz CA

I love this race! It starts in Waddell Park, next to the Costco in Santa Cruz and winds up the infamous Pogonip Trail in the university of Santa Cruz campus. I've done it for several years, and it just might be the first trail race I ever did. So I have a lot of sentimental attachment to it.

This year I dragged Rebecca, my best friends Charlie and Frank, and Frank's girlfriend Nerissa down the hill from my house to go there and run as well. My goal was to run something like 43 minutes this year (I was a little over 44 minutes last year and was third in the 40-44 age group with that). Santa Cruz always has scarily competitive fields, especially in masters divisions.

The race starts at the civilized hour of 9am, another great feature. Almost five hundred people lined up at the start line. I got a place close to the front next to my Los Gatos hills neighbor Steve Moore. The British announcer (hey isn't this when we declared independence from those guys?!) counted down the race start from ten to zero and then took off running with the field. The first mile loops around the neighborhood and around the park for the first mile. I hit that one at 6:15. Then it was back out to route 9 and up a couple blocks to enter the UCSC campus. There's a trailhead at the bottom of the hill that I think I hit at around 20 minutes. Then its a steep uphill on Pogonip to mile 4. Then a left off of the trail and into the neighborhoods, pummeling downhill on asphalt the whole way. Its quite bonejarring. Probably the only thing I don't like about the race. I finished in 43:30, 33rd overall, and only good enough for fourth in my agegroup this year.

I grabbed a delicious pineapple popsicle and ran back out to meet Frank, Nerissa, Charlie and Rebecca. After running them all in, we considered hanging around for the free pancake breakfast. But we headed up to Scotts Valley to Auntie Mame's instead. Followed by an afternoon at the pool and a barbecue, this was a superb Fourth of July.