Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Layton Marathon: On The Road Again

"Never limit where running can take you"
- Bart Yasso

I've heard Bart say this a lot and I think they're words to live by...assuming you're a runner. If you're not, it really makes no sense. 

I didn't have a race on my calendar this weekend. All of that changed while we were packing for our trip to Salt Lake City on Thursday night (Translated: Jo was packing while I screwed around on the Internet). I discovered that there would be a road Marathon in Layton Utah (20 minutes away) on Saturday and they were still taking online registration. 

As always, I was on the fence about doing ANOTHER race, but Jo insisted that we sign me up right away. Who am I to argue? I just go with the flow...

My logic suggested it would make a great training run for the Oil Creek 100 AND double as a recovery run for my 50 mile training run (also for Oil Creek) from last weekend. The whole idea was simply too genius to pass up. 

We flew in Friday morning and headed directly to packet pickup.


Now...this is a road race. Which means there is likely to be a few road runners there. Which also means there will be a lot of people talking about Hal Higdon, heart rate monitors, GU, training cycles, and tapering. All of these topics bore me. So I'll just keep to myself.

This is a point to point race, which is a bonus. The first 10 miles take place on Antelope Island, which is a state park in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. It's wild and remote, and also home to several hundred buffalo. After leaving the island, we transition onto the causeway that takes us 7 miles across the lake, then we run through a rural area before heading into the finish. Sounds pretty cool for a road race.

The race started at 6:30 (still very dark), but we had to be on the buses between 4:30 and 5:00 for the shuttle to the island. No spectators allowed, which means Jo can go shower and meet me at the finish.

4:30 and ready to go!

Headed to my big yellow Limousine!

The bus ride out was interesting. There was a lot of nervous chatter about the race. People exchanging stories about their training and their expectations. It seems nobody slept the night before due to all the nervous energy and anxiety.

I wanted to say "Yeah...I never heard of this race until 36 hours ago. I slept like a baby after killing a 6 pack and eating pizza last night. Sooooo...you trained for this?"

Anyway...I kid. Running a marathon is really hard.

The bus dropped us at the start line, which was on a two lane road in the middle of the island. It was pitch black and 52 degrees. There was one gas heater set up. 52 degrees is really nice running weather...when you're running. It's not so nice when you're in running clothes and NOT running. We were crammed around that heater like a litter of kittens looking for a tit to suckle. This went on for over an hour while we waited. I used every last bit of civility and patience I had during that time.

The race started right on time, and I'm sure we were all happy to get moving.

My plan was to turn my iPod on, and switch my brain off. I was just going to run at an easy pace and get my miles in without regard to my finish time. Coming off the VC 50 miler a week prior put a hurting on me. I was just going to let my legs dictate the pace.

Two mile into the race, I saw a huge herd of buffalo on the slope above the road. It was still dark and I could barely see them moving around in the distance. I was bummed not to get a better look at them, because I had never seen them in the wild.

Our first aid station came at mile 3, then every 2 miles after that (all the odd numbered miles).

View after passing the 3 mile station. Still pretty dark.

I was running well, but at a leisurely pace. I enjoyed the landscape and stopped frequently to take pictures and generally behave like a tourist.

View of the Wasatch just beyond the lake. 

More...Salt Lake and the Wasatch beyond.

View, looking back to the start.

At mile 3, I saw a large group of mule deer above the road. Like the buffalo from earlier, they were too far off and it was too dark to get a picture. It was a cool scene nonetheless.

Then at mile 5ish, I saw 3 large antelope running at full speed from the lake, headed toward us. I've seen antelope several times in the past and noticed that they either stand perfectly still, or they go full tilt! These over sized goats can run faster than any animal I've ever seen in the wild, but I'm not convinced they really have a plan. They just run.

These guys seemed to follow me all day. Turnabout is fair play!

Sun finally rising over the Wasatch. 

Near mile 7, the road rose up and curved to the right. From where we were running, I could see a small herd of buffalo on the slope below the road. They were more than a mile off, but they weren't going anywhere. I made mental note of the location but lost sight of them because of how the ground drops off from the road. So I left the road and crept over the hill and found them just below me. I snapped a few pictures and carried on. DISCLAIMER: If leaving the road during the race is a violation of park or race rules, I didn't really do it. This race report is strictly for entertainment purposes and nothing herein should be taken as factual.

Not a great picture, but they were there!

More buffalo near mile 9

These animals are huge!

After spending 10 miles snapping pictures, and occasionally running, we were leaving the island. Running on Antelope Island was probably the coolest experience I've ever had in a road marathon.

Starting out on the causeway, I was feeling good and enjoying the run. But I knew this next 7 miles across Salt Lake would be a challenge. Nothing but water to look at on both sides of the road and there was an odd smell that seemed to be a mix of sulphur and salt. Not a great smell to be sucking into your lungs for 7 miles.

However, I did think it was a cool experience to run across this section of the lake. But 3 miles would have been sufficient.

View looking back toward the island

The causeway

After leaving the causeway, we turned off and began to meander through a farming area outside Layton. This is like a lot of road races I've done in the rural Pennsylvania area, except there were no rolling hills like we have back there.

This section had a lot of REALLY LONG straight sections and became pretty boring after a while. I was still running well, but losing focus and was just ready for it to be over.

My right calf had been tight for a few miles and my left hip flexor was sore. These are just symptoms from a 50 mile race with 10,000' of vertical gain from 7 days prior. While I wasn't worried about injury, I also didn't want to provoke anything. I slowed to a very easy pace and kept running.

When I passed the 25 mile mark, I kicked it up a bit and held a steady pace for the last mile of the race. In a rare move, I was actually wearing my Garmin, so I knew exactly what my finish time would be. I planned to run an average of sub 10 minute miles, assuming my body was cool with that. And that's exactly what I did. Nice and easy the entire way.

Coming to the finish

Crossing the finish line in 4:13. Nowhere near a fast race, but not bad for a training run and picture taking tour.

As soon as I finished, I gathered my medal and Jo met me at the end of the chute. I immediately said "OK then...let's go!" We were gone within a minute of my finish. I did what I set out to do, so it was time for a cold beer and a shower.

The race itself really is pretty cool and I'm glad I ran it. I'm  not a huge fan of road races, but it's good to mix them in on occasion for conditioning purposes. Trails can soften you up over time and if that happens, injury is just around the corner.

The race had great volunteers and organizers and I hope it does really well over the years. This is the third year and they seem to have their act together. They should be proud of what they have here.

I can talk all sorts of smack about ANY road race, so take it for what it is. I enjoyed this run far more than most. Especially Disney. I hate Disney.

Now that I finished this race, I'll spend the rest of my week out here on hill training at elevation. The Wasatch is the best venue for just such a thing. Then I have a couple of easy weeks until the Oil Creek 100. It's going to be an amazing time with all of my best running friends, especially when I kick ALL their asses!

Happy Trails!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Virgil Crest Ultras: It Ain't for Sissies

"It Ain't for Sissies"

I wanted to share this quote because I think it really captures the spirit of ultra running.

"Endurance: It is the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope. It is the quality which keeps a man on his feet with his face to the wind. It is the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal."
- Anonymous

And I wanted to share this quote because it summarizes my reality as the Virgil Crest 100 approached...

"The sky is not the limit...I am."
- T.F. Hodge

Like a lot of endurance runners, I sometimes fail to recognize that there are limits to the body and mind. As my race approached I slowly realized that I didn't feel mentally prepared. I hadn't given the 100 mile race enough consideration, planning and most importantly, respect. My body was relatively fine, but a little battered from my recent Leadville 100 finish.

After a lot of internal debate, and in a rare moment of maturity and clarity, I decided to change my registration to the 50 mile race option for Virgil Crest. I was also aware that I had the Oil Creek 100 looming in the immediate future and that was a race I really wanted to run well at, so it became obvious I was making the right decision.

My greatest regret was having to inform Lou D'Onofrio, who had planned to pace me for the 100. He's also running the Oil Creek 100 and was hoping for a final long training run before that event. I let Lou know about my decision and to my relief, he took it in stride and was very gracious. As it worked out, he was able to register for the 50k version of the race, which would be run on Sunday following my event. We would all travel up together and still have a great weekend.

The 50 and 100 mile races started at 6:00 AM on Saturday, which means we get to run in the dark for the first few miles. This is an out and back course, 25 miles each way. This distance is accompanied by 10,000 feet of climbing. The 100 mile race repeats this out and back course. I know...it sounds awesome!

I was unusually calm on race morning because the pressure of the 100 miler was lifted off my shoulders. I actually enjoy the 50 mile distance and am very comfortable with it. 100 milers are great, but running the 50 allows me the luxury of having dinner while sitting down, and a shower and a warm bed on the same day of the race. 100's dictate that you won't sleep, you'll miss at least 3 meals, and you'll feel like crap for several days. Sometimes it's worth it. Sometimes it isn't.

Before the start

 It was cool, but pleasant before the race started. The 6:00 AM start time meant we would be wearing headlamps for the first few miles. I was amped up and ready to go!

We're off!

Our first aid station was 4.4 miles down the trail. I carried a single bottle for this race and had it filled with water at the start.

The RD had these great signs all over the course. The quotes were great.

The race started out on very runnable trail and stayed that way for a long time. I actually began to second guess the reports I heard about the difficulty of the course. We were sailing over smooth trail, laughing, chatting and having fun. There were some rolling hills, but nothing to get worried about. 

New York countryside in the fall

 We rolled into the Gravel Pit aid station and I loaded my bottle with GU Brew and headed out right away. Shortly after leaving the aid station, the trails got tighter, more technical and steeper. We had a lot of downhill in this section, but the uphill was steep and daunting.

Headed to Lift House 5

I wasn't "racing", I was running this race with an eye toward a solid effort, but not so solid that I could get injured or too fatigued. I tried to keep a fun pace going, and so far, that was working well.

Coming into Lift House 5

Lift House 5 is where the race gets interesting. This is the alpine loop that takes us up to the top of the ski slopes, down the backside, then leads us through all the ski runs before coming back over the top to rejoin the trail. 

We're actually running straight up the Black Diamond slopes and bailing off the other side. These slopes are steep and devastating. 

Note to ALL trail runners: When your course is littered with chairlifts, it's a solid sign that you've entered a really tough race. 

We were NOT allowed to use the chair lifts

This section of the course was probably steeper and more relentless than anything I've ever run. This was absolute lung searing, leg crushing, chin scraping brutality.

Heading up!

Lift House 5 took the wind out of my sails. But I was able to keep a positive attitude by reminding myself that I would be doing this TWICE...not FOUR TIMES like the 100 milers! Poor bastards!

After finishing the ski slopes, we were off to the Rock Pile aid station.

The trail to Rock Pile is very tough with several long, steep technical climbs. Some of the hills have ropes tied to trees so we can pull ourselves up and lower ourselves down. There is virtually nothing flat in this section of trail. The footing was very technical and required a lot of caution in several areas.

It was right about here that it began to rain. It was a nice, light, cooling rain initially. Then waves of heavy rain started to pound us. The trails got very muddy, very quickly and added to the level of difficulty along the course.

View of Virgil

After getting out of the Rock Pile aid station we were headed to the turnaround at Daisy Hollow Road. The trail leveled off a bit and became more reasonable. It was still ridiculous by any normal standard, but more manageable nonetheless.

It continued to rain pretty hard and I knew the trail conditions were going to deteriorate quickly. Another random smile crossed my face as I basked in the joy of my decision to only run 50 miles.

Side note: I catch myself saying "only 50 miles" a lot. I feel it's important to note that 50 miles is a hell of a long way to run.

I had been taking it pretty easy and planned to evaluate my condition at Daisy Hollow and decide how hard to push on the way back. My hamstrings were tight, but otherwise, I felt pretty good. I was going through a rapid series of high points and low points, but I was managing them well. So far, so good.

Coming into Daisy Hollow

Daisy Hollow Aid Station

After getting some fuel and a kiss from Jo, I turned and headed for the trail, back to the Rock Pile!

This is so true

On my way to the Rock Pile, I was feeling good and started passing a few runners. This section is less technical and I was having fun with it. But I knew it was just a matter of time before I would be revisiting those damn ski hills...

I made excellent time getting back to Lift House 5. I was feeling really good, but I knew the steep hills were going to sap me of my strength.

I'm actually laughing in this picture because the upcoming section is THAT ridiculous. I either have to laugh or cry, and I hate crying in front of strangers.

Coming into Lift House 5

Starting this ascent after 36 miles of hard, mucky, technical single track is not an easy task. My legs were feeling pretty beat up by this point, but I was fueled by the fact that I was so close to the finish.

 Headed UP, UP, UP!!!

I struggled through the alpine loop again. I had long since resigned myself to the fact that this was going to be my slowest 50 miler...EVER. I was at peace with my race and I was having fun.

I headed back out onto the trail, knowing the hardest climbs were now behind me. Nothing ahead would be easy, but at least I knew the major suffering was over. I continued to struggle with a few more mental and physical ups and downs, but I was feeling pretty good and the race was still fun, which is what really matters.

Coming back into the Gravel Pit

Once I got to the Gravel Pit aid station, I knew the rest of the trail would be pretty runnable. I was happy to be nearly finished and I was feeling good. I was in and out of the aid station quickly, and headed for the finish.

I had run a conservative race and had a lot left in the tank, so I started to push the pace a bit and passed several runners headed back to Hope Lake. I would catch a glimpse of a runner in the woods and slowly reel them in. It kept me focused and motivated on my way to the finish. I was having a blast!

I finally caught a glimpse of the lake and could hear the muffled sounds of the finish line. I pushed along and made my way to the finish chute.

Finishing the hardest race EVER

The Virgil Crest 50 mile race has a 16.5 hour cutoff for a reason. This is just a really slow and punishing trail. I crossed the finish line in 11:23:10, which is well over an hour slower than my previous slowest 50.

I think the elevation profile illustrates a lot about this race.

Initially, I was a little bummed about my finish time, but after analyzing my split times, I think it was a solid effort. I wanted to keep a nice controlled pace and avoid injury and unnecessary fatigue. I felt strong and healthy at the finish, so I'm happy with the results.

Jo and I agreed to stick around and help crew for Lou in his 50k. I really wanted to help him any way I could because he had cleared his schedule to pace for me, then I screwed up his plans. On top of that, he's just a really great guy and a fantastic friend.

The 50k version of this race is no joke either. It boasts 6300' of vertical gain and has a 10 hour cutoff. The course is designed to maximize the toughest sections of the 50 mile course.

A view of the 50k profile.

Jo and I took all of Lou's supplies to the Lift House 5 aid station and warmed ourselves by the campfire while we waited for the first runners to arrive. We were in conversation with other crews when I saw a runner way off in the distance. After a short debate, we realized that it was Lou and he's leading the race.

Now...I love Lou and I know he's a talented runner, but to be honest, it hadn't really occurred to me that he would be leading the race. We were caught off guard and hustled to get everything ready.

I ran out and met Lou, grabbed his bottle and led him into the aid station. I mixed his drink while Jo helped him get rid of extra layers and get a new shirt. When the stop was finished, he was headed up the ski slopes for the first real torture of his race. He was in and out in under 1 minute.

Lou coming into Lift House 5

Then we waited for the 2nd place runner. And waited...and waited...It was 8 minutes before the next runner came into the aid station!

We continued to watch 50k runners cycle through the aid station as I kept an eye on my watch. I had run this alpine loop yesterday and had an idea how long it would take Lou to finish it. As time approached, I headed down the trail and waited for him to come off the mountain. 

Running Lou back into Lift House 5

We got him into the aid station, mixed him up a fresh bottle and got him fed in less than a minute. In the 50k, the runners immediately turn around and go BACK UP the same alpine loop that they just ran. I ran out with Lou and discussed his lead. He looked great and had a solid pace.

Watching Lou head back up the mountain.

After sending him off, we waited once again for the next runner. This time it was 11 minutes before he came into the aid station. Lou was spreading the lead and still going strong.

After finishing his last run through the alpine loop, we fueled him up and sent him out of the Lift House 5 aid station for the last time. He was now 20 miles into the race and had stretched his lead to 15 minutes.

Jo and I headed to the Gravel Pit aid station to help him through his final stop. I went down the trail and met Lou as he topped out near the aid station. I grabbed his bottle, gave him an update on his lead, and ran him into the aid station.

Coming into the last aid station

Lou was looking strong, but I could see he was wearing down a bit. He had kept up a blistering pace and was close to the course record. He was also preoccupied with the gap between him and the 2nd place runner. I assured him he was going to win if he could keep upright and maintain a decent pace. At this point, the next runner would have to improve his pace by 3 minutes per mile just to catch a glimpse of Lou.

Out of curiosity, we waited around for the next runner before heading to the finish. Lou now had a 17 minute lead.

Jo and I headed to the finish line and anxiously waited for Lou. He eventually came into view on the other side of the lake and was running a solid pace. From our vantage point, we can see the runners for about a half mile. I kept scanning the trail behind Lou for signs of a threat to his win. It never materialized.

Lou barely missed the course record, but won the race in a very convincing manner. It was an amazing race to watch and we were all pretty excited.

Lou D'Onofrio winning the Virgil Crest 50k

Lou took the lead right away and never gave it up. These types of victories are rare and it was a very solid performance. Ironically, Lou signed up for the 50k on Thursday. He had only planned to have an easy run while pacing me in the 100 miler, yet he came out on short notice and destroyed this course. That says a lot about the talent in this man.

Celebrating after the win!

My temporary disappointment after deciding to drop down the 50 miler was completely overshadowed by what an amazing weekend we all had. I got to run a very tough race and ended up really enjoying the course. I got in a great training run that I really needed and I'll be better prepared for the Oil Creek 100. And we got to be a part of a defining race with a very good friend. 

The entire weekend at Virgil Crest defines "Epic" in my mind. 

It's time to enter into a period of rest and mental preparation as Oil Creek approaches. Maybe that race will give me a new perspective on "Epic"!

Happy Trails!