photo: Abe Morrison

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 Leadville 100 run

I just looked up the lyrics for the Hank Williams Jr song and was going to alter them to my Leadville race experience, but couldn't do it. Which song? It's called "Family Tradition".

The Leadville 100 has become a bit of a family tradition (not all intentionally) although this year was to be a little different. I'm pretty sure I'm the most stubborn of the 690 racers that gathered in the corral at 4 AM on 6th and Harrison. I wanted to finish this race more than any of them. I have failed to do so in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and was back again in 2014 with a little more 100 mile experience under by my belt (with removable buckle - ready for the race finisher hardware).

This year my training was somewhat minimal, usually running about 25-30 miles a week with 6000-8000 ft of elevation gain. I tried each week to get in at least 1 high altitude run (going over 12,600), but didn't worry too much about the rest. I got in a couple 20 milers, the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, and a climb of Cerro Chirripo (highest peak in Central America, > 26 miles with >10,000 vertical gain).

As with most of the other years, I rented a house in Leadville to provide a base camp for my parents who always come out to cheer me on from NC, and my girls. Hannah is only 5 but has cheered me on in Leadville 4 times now! Same 4 trips from NC from my parents. It has become a family tradition.
We went up to 10K on Thursday and I weighed in at 148.8 lbs and picked up my race number 418. Hannah had some kind of funk in her throat and I was hopeful it wouldn't invade my body. Thursday night she had a tough night and I didn't get quite the rest I was wanting. Friday we watched the iconic Stewart Smalley-like motivation speech where I had to recite out loud that I wouldn't quit. This has always caused annoyance because I wouldn't quit if they didn't make me due to time cutoffs.

Views from base camp. Very peaceful.

I've analyzed the course and previous splits in excruciating detail and found that inbound Twin Lakes cutoff is the serious one. I felt if I could make that one, I could finish. I went out with that mentality. So how do you most efficiently make a time cutoff that involves so many variables? For me, I was to cruise through the first 40 miles, fully focused on the 40-60 section which involves 2 huge climbs.

Me and Dad at the Start line at 4AM

Race morning I crawled out of bed at 2:40 AM after another nite of rough sleep and got dressed, ate breakfast and Dad and I went to the start line. We were plenty early and stood around in dark and people-watched while other runners greeted each other and made last minute gear choices. At 4, the shotgun went off and here we go again. I made good time to Mayqueen 6:35 AM at mile 13 and was right on pace. Dropped off my night gear and continued on. I just fell in with a group of others and went up and over the first big climb and descent. On the road to Outward Bound aid station, I bumped into an old friend (Steve Nicholls) giving Leadville another go after previously finishing it in his only attempt in 2006.

Chowing some watermelon at mile 25
We had a great time pacing off of each other, talking race survival tactics and just banging out the miles. We ran together all the way into Twin Lakes at mile 40 at 12:34 PM. We got separated in the massive aid station crowd. I had my mind on the impending climb and wasn't sure if I was ahead or behind Steve as I left. I was focused.

Prepping my pack at mile 40
I switched from handheld water bottles to a pack and got to the base of the climb and just started marching hard. I passed a huge number of runners on the way up and was ecstatic to reach the top of the climb 2 hrs after leaving Twin lakes. I sent a text to my crew letting them know, started to cry/get choked up and headed down. I made it into Winfield at 4:30, an hour and a half faster than previous attempts.

I was met by my crew of pacers - Chai Engtrakul, Matt Yung, and Ryan Crisp. We made efficient use of the aid station, I weighed in at 144.6, we filled a ziplock with food and left that ghost town on a mission. Chai was my first pacer over the hill. We worked our way through the crowds for a couple miles and then hit the climb proper. I focused on powering to the top and again made it up without stopping once. Sent out another text and began the long crazy descent into Twin Lakes Inbound.

Hopeless aid station at mile 55

We finally arrived well over an hour ahead of the cutoff and I took my time preparing for the night section as darkness arrived. I switched shoes into a brand new pair - never worn - of Hoka Huakas, one size too big to allow extra room for my toes. Seemed like a good idea and it turned out to be fine.

I switched pacers to Matt and we left the aid station with exactly an hour of cushion. It was an awesome feeling hitting that cutoff with so much cushion and energy left in the bank, I felt it was in the bag, I just had 40 more miles to go! Matt and I talked and motored our way through the night arriving at the Mt Elbert aid station to a dance party. Made a quick pit stop and then headed back out. I was mostly walking and knew all I had to do was maintain a sub 19 min/mile pace so Matt kept track of that and we were doing fine.

It started to get cold and I was thankful for the ramen noodles at Halfpipe aid station. I again bumped into Steve, so was happy he was still doing great as well. Ryan took over at the treeline informal station and paced me to Outward bound where it began to really get cold. I got a puffy jacket and chemical hand warmers and was annoyed that there wasn't a heated tent - in reality it could have been a great thing that there wasn't. Jimmy took over pacing from mile 74 and we caught up on his recent travels on the road section over to the last big climb. I was mostly eating chips, pretzels, and saltines out of a large ziplock bag that all of my pacers had refilled and passed on to each other. As soon as we hit the steep climb up powerline, Jimmy handed me a bagel with PB&J. It took me like a half hour to eat that thing but I got it down. The climb seemed to drag on forever, even though I ran a training run there 2 weeks prior. We kept hearing a trombone blasting in the woods and knew that must have been the top of the climb. Finally we arrived to an awesome rogue aid station, complete with Shamrocks, pot, a dancing gorilla.

Time was on my side so we just moseyed down to the next aid station Mayqueen at 4:45 AM - just over 24 hrs from the start. Jimmy was a great pacer but I was really looking forward to Tabor boat ramp where I'd pick up Heidi who was ready to pace me for the last 7 miles. We got there just after sunrise and Heidi and I headed to the finish.

Selfie at mile 98!
We kept a pretty good hiking pace on the roads leading to town but it seemed hard to predict how much distance was left and I was ready to get this thing over with! We crested the final hill and I saw my crew and Hannah joined Heidi and I as we ran hard the last 1/3 mile to cross the finish in 28h53m. It seemed everyone was cheering extra hard because they knew of the long road I'd taken to finally get to this point, but they must do that for everyone. It was glorious. I got the trademark hug from Merilee and a hardy handshake from Ken. I'm so thankful for all the support I've gotten from my family and friends through this long journey. Thanks for my crew and pacers staying up the whole night with me and tending to all of my needs.

We drove back home and had a backyard barbeque to celebrate 4 birthdays at once and surprisingly, I could still walk and function fairly normally. Other than some chapped lips, understandable soreness in my legs, and a overworked stomach, all is well!

Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 The Bear 100 Race Report

After crewing for my friend Jimmy in the 2012 Bear, I became intrigued by the 36 hr time cutoff as opposed to the 30 hr cutoff at Leadville that I'd battled for the previous few years. On the drive home, I started looking at other nearby 100 mile runs with longer time allowances and chose to try Bighorn and The Bear in 2013. As I sit here with swollen, tight legs, I couldn't be happier about having finished both of them well within the time cutoff and having a great year of running.

I had a few potential crew/pacer commitments early in the year but all of them had something come up or couldn't make the trip out to Utah mid-week. So I then decided to run solo without crew to simplify everything. The Saturday before the race, I mentioned the race to my Dad on the phone and he asked if I needed him to come out to crew. The gears started turning and he flew out from NC last minute! We drove 8 hours across Wyoming and sat in the Logan Super8 with this weather forecast for the next 2 days (pulled off a friend's Facebook page).

The weather was so grim that they cancelled the pre-race meeting and the race director said something along the lines of "we'll see you in the morning, all I can promise is that it will be better at the finish". After a last minute panic-induced shopping spree at Sports Authority for more fleece, gloves, and hand warmers, we scouted out the start line which was hidden behind a complex detour and I felt as prepared as I could be for the day to come.

The race went incredibly well for me aside from some knee annoyances toward the end, and being pretty cold most of the time that I wore a shirt, hoodie, softshell and puffy throughout the night. The night was long, drawn out (mile 50 to 84), and somewhat lonely but slowly the miles ticked away, the graupel faded away and I joined the black bear club with a finish in 31:24. Most of the story can be told in photos.

Just before the race start. I think my headlamp lasted about 15 minutes, luckily I survived by mooching off runners around me.

On the first mega-climb, daylight came showcasing frost on the trees

Looking back down to Logan
High up on Logan Peak, snow was about 2-3 inches deep.

Near the top of Logan Peak, the sun finally broke through the clouds making for a magical sight.

Dropping down into Leatham Hollow (mile 20) canyon walls and red maples were beautiful.

Appropriately marked course for the most part.

Aspens almost in full glory.

Coming into Right Hand Fork (mile 45)

Crossing the state line prior to sunrise

After cresting the last climb at Ranger Dip, the finish line is visible 7 miles down the hill at the shore of Bear Lake.

Suffering through the final downhill in this wonderful fall display.

Finisher plaque and belt buckle

Monday, June 17, 2013

2013 Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic 100 mile run

Bighorn 100
June 15, 2013

After spending a week in Spain for a work conference, I spent 24 hrs in airplanes and airports and finally arrived home at 10:30 PM on Wednesday. Thursday morning I spent with Hannah and then finished up packing and hit the road with Ryan by 10:30 AM. We arrived in Sheridan to lush green scenery, near perfect 80 degree weather, and relatively small crowds at racer check-in and packet pickup. I weighed in, had my pulse ox and blood pressure measured and picked up my packet and race bib. I was awarded the luckiest of numbers:
We then headed to the pre-race dinner buffet at Ole's Pizza where I stuffed my face with pasta as my last good food for a while. I recognized a runner who gave me some good advice at Leadville in 2011. I had admired his long list of 100 mile finishes and sought out some last minute advice. Another nice result of the low key aspect of this race is that I was able to get a hotel room on the spot at America's Best Value Inn in Sheridan. I'd been too busy to figure out where to stay and guessed I'd be able to find somewhere to camp, but it sure was nice to score a hotel. We ran into a runner at the hotel's continental breakfast and after hearing his long list of finishes and that he was from Utah, I recognized that he was Davy Crockett. He said "yeah, my name's kind of hard to forget". The hotel's continental breakfast left a little to be desired so I was glad I brought a couple blueberry muffins with me. After eating those and downing some light tan, translucent coffee and we headed 30 minutes up to Dayton for the pre-race meeting.

Along route, I stopped for gas and got some adrenaline flowing when a forest service official almost backed into my car while I was pulling up to the gas pump (might have been partially my fault as I sort of snuck up to the pump, in between pumps). It could have been a rough morning, but luckily he saw me at the last minute and slammed on his brakes and then verbally scolded me because his "rig" was "tax payer's dollars".

Once finally briefed to excruciating detail on which streams have drinkable water, where crew should park, and what temps to expect, we then found logistical help for Ryan, my pacer, who wanted to leave the car at Dry Fork (mile 13 & 82) and catch a ride to Jaws trailhead (mile 48). We then had an hour to kill before race time where I began to get hungry for lunch and had a slight headache from not enough caffeine.

Finally 11 AM rolled around and the race began. I let almost all the runners go by and just started jogging way behind the pack. I settled in with another runner and enjoyed the first big climb. Here is a picture of the elevation profile collected by my watch during the race.

Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Run elevation profile as recorded by my watch. The blue line is my speed, so when it spikes, I was momentarily stopped. That shows where the aid stations are.

The first climb starts from the Tongue River and steeply climbs to 7500 ft. This is a good intro to the race because I could settle in to a relaxed hike. Soon we climbed out of the steep canyon into high wild and scenic meadows. It was really really beautiful and lived up to it's name.

I cruised into Dry Fork at a leisurely pace a good 20 mins ahead of my predicted split based on previous 33.5 hour finishers. I caught Ryan off guard as he was sitting next to a port-a-potty reading star wars. I switched from handheld bottles to my pack as planned and headed down the hill. Apparently from Dry Fork you can see the turn around point some 35 miles away. Maybe it's the snowy ridge over my right shoulder in the photo above. Maybe not.

The wild flowers were in full force and the trail became tight singletrack as it would remain for the next 70 miles. My body was warmed up now and feeling pretty good. I was eating and drinking well and just was focused on getting to mile 48 feeling good. The course then drops pretty abruptly down to footbridge and this downhill was steep and fun to run. I was making good time but keeping everything well under control.  I arrived at footbridge plenty early ahead of my goal time and took a seat and got items needed for the upcoming night time.

The climb out of Footbridge was nice and gentle and I was hiking along as I knew I was well ahead (40 mins) of my planned splits. Just at dusk, Zach Miller came running downhill about 18 miles ahead of me. 20 minutes or so later I passed the would be winner. My focus was still on just taking it easy and getting to Jaws (mile 48) feeling good. Around 1 AM I arrived at Jaws and was 1hr38min ahead of my planned split. I sat down, changed shoes into my waterproof hokas, ate a donut that I put in my dropbag, downed a bottle of coconut water and headed back out with Ryan as a pacer. I was excited about having a pacer as I'd been running pretty solo for a good while.

Unfortunately most of this next section from 48 to 60 was too risky to really run much in the dark as it was rocky and sloppy. Around 4AM, the sky started glowing orange but wasn't light enough to run with out headlamp until 5 or so. I was finally able to pick up into a jog at times and then cruised back into Footbridge at mile 66 where I dumped my night clothes and gear and changed back into shorts/short sleeves.

I was well aware that the climb out of footbridge was very steep (and often thought to be the most difficult part of this race) but I continued to make pretty good time hiking up the hill with my hands on my quads. 

At this point I felt that I had the finish in the bag because everything was still feeling really good, I was running well on the flatter sections and well in front of my planned times. However I noticed that if I could crank out a 6 hour final marathon, I would just break 30 hrs. That seemed like a nice round number and a good goal so I changed my pace from mellow and relaxed to pushing harder. I also started to get pretty tired here and kept looking forward to aid stations to grab a gulp of mountain dew.

After some more hidden turns and ups and downs, we arrived back at Dry Fork at 25h19m. After the medical check and swapping some gear, that left me 4h30m to run 17.5 miles to the finish. There is one more steep climb and a serious downhill and then 4 miles on a dirt road left. The Aid Station volunteer hassled me quite a bit here about hydration and when I'd last peed. I was less than worried about that and was more interested in getting outta there quickly. She made me drink a bottle of water before leaving and then I headed out, running solo again with a goal.

The final descent was outrageously steep and narrow and slowed me down quite a bit. My knee started to complain a little with this downhill so all I could do was run with modified stride and then stop and rest a bit. I saw so many snakes on this section that slithered away right before I planted my foot.

Eventually the steep slope mellowed and I was able to run normally again and my knee pain went away. I had 7.3 miles to go and 1h45m to break 30 hrs. I pushed hard but had to stop for a couple things along the way, was running low on food/energy, and really had to go to the bathroom. At 5 miles from the finish there was the last big aid station with public restrooms.

I continued to do pace math and eventually switched my watch over from low resolution GPS Ultratrac mode into normal mode and figured out that if I could run 13 min/miles for 5 more miles, I'd make it. I ran for a while at 11 min pace but quickly maxed my HR. I had to walk for a while then ran on and off but soon realized I didn't want it bad enough to make it in under 30. At this race the cutoff was 34 hrs so 30 was just a round nice number to shoot for. I felt extremely happy with the whole race and realized that there's no real additional benefit to breaking 30, plus I didn't know how accurately my timing and distance estimate were to the actual finish line so I just jogged it in and quit looking at my watch. I spent 1h09m in the main drop bag aid stations and lots of unaccounted time in the smaller aid stations, which may be something I should work on in the future. I'm pretty happy with fairly even splits of 14 hours out and 16 hours back considering the course is 4 miles longer on the way back. All in all, I think everything went perfectly for me in this race. No blisters, no injuries, no stomach issues, just a great run in some gorgeous mountains.
Thanks to Ryan for pacing and crewing me and for all the support from my family.