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!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Moab Red Hot 55k: A Beautiful Run on the Rock

Running in Moab is always a worthwhile adventure. Running the Moab Red Hot 55k is an adventure mixed with beauty, frustration and a little bit of pain.

This race draws a pretty large field of participants and it's routinely attended by some of the fastest ultra runners in the country. Finishing this race with a decent time is extremely challenging. Taking a podium spot is a major undertaking. For me, I was just happy to be there. I had no illusions regarding how my day was going to play out. 

But most importantly, this race was a highlight because it was going to be attended by so many of our friends from the Happy Utah Mountain Runner's (HUMR) group, as well as other friends from all over the country. 

View from the course

After a week of racing in the Caribbean, the only souvenir I brought home was an upper respiratory infection. As soon as it became obvious, I took action by doubling up on my vitamins and forcing myself to get more rest. When we finally headed down to Moab for this race, I was in the final stages of recovery, but I was still hacking crud out of my lungs.

This didn't trouble me too much because I knew this wasn't a race that would allow me to be competitive. The field was too elite, I was still having lingering effects from the Coldwater Rumble 50 miler, and I was sick. But I wanted this race and I needed the training miles, so I was in good spirits about the event and was excited to be running in Moab again.

A short run the day before the race, previewing the final miles of the course

The frozen Colorado River. View from the course

After logging some miles on the course, we met up with friends and went for a hike in Devil's Garden in Arches National Park. It was a beautiful day to be outside.

Hiking down a fin at Devils Garden

Like all serious ultra runner's, we focused on proper pre-race fueling. About 20 of us met at the Moab Brewery for dinner and a few carbonated, carbohydrate bombs.

Carb loading, HUMR style!

Weather for race morning was an almost perfect 28 degrees, with a promise to rise into the mid or upper 40's. The sky was brilliant blue and completely cloudless. It doesn't really get any better than this, especially in February.

Some of the best runners I know. HUMR group photo!

We shed our extra layers and began to line up for the start. I was initially lined up right behind Karl Meltzer and Dakota Jones. I dropped back a bit further in the pack when I realized my faux pas.

Lined up and ready to go!

The race starts on a short flat section of Jeep road and then transitions into a big climb right away. During training, I ran this hill and had decided it would be foolish to start my race by running this entire section. So naturally, I ran this entire section.

HUMR badasses, Aric Manning and Jared Clark storming the hill!!

Me and Jason Howland making our way to the top

Runner's disappearing around the corner

Once we got to the top of the hill, we have a short descent. I could see Aric Manning ahead of me and I was gaining on him. I gave him a smack on the ass as I passed him and became immediately aware of the source of Aric's hill climbing ability. Well done Aric! Work those glutes, Brother!

Before hitting the bottom of the hill, we cross a cattle guard. I slowed and skipped across it. Jason Howland attempted a trickier approach and paid the price when his shoe popped right off his foot. I slowed but kept running while Jason made the needed repairs. He was back at my side within a minute.

After our short descent, we hit a flat section of jeep road and I fell into my running rhythm. I felt like I was running a decent pace, considering we were in kilometer 3 of a 55k race. Nonetheless, the field was stretching out as runner's took advantage of this flat and fast section. I figured I would see many of them again, a bit later in the race.

Flat road section after the first climb

Sign near the 33k and 55k split

The first aid station came between mile 5 and 6. I was fueling exclusively with Hammer Perpetuem in a handheld and regulating my electrolytes with Endurolyte Fizz tabs in my hydration pack. I hadn't planned to stop at this aid station but was forced to because my shoes were too loose and they were filling with sand. When I stopped to remedy this, I told Jason to go on ahead and I would catch up to him. Off he went.

On my way again, I realized that I needed to pull off the trail for a quick pit stop (#1 not #2). While I was stopped I hung my handheld bottle from a tree branch and took my pack off to retrieve a Hammer Bar from my pack. Once I was finished, I strapped my pack on and headed out. After a few minutes, I realized I had left my bottle hanging in the tree and had to turn around to retrieve it. While this sounds simple enough, it proved to be a problem because all the trees look the same. After some slow plodding in the wrong direction, I recovered my bottle and resumed my race. This cost me 10 or 15 minutes and added about a mile to my day.

We were running a loop at this point in the race and we were headed back to the first aid station. This would mark the halfway point in the race and Jo would be waiting for me so I could get a fresh supply of Perpetuem and Fizz. For this to happen, Jo had to hike 6 miles into the aid station. Needless to say, she was the only crew member waiting for a runner at the aid station.

Badass BJ Burlison coming into the aid station

Making my way to the aid station

I was still feeling really good at this point in the race, which was critical because the hardest miles were still well ahead of us. It was beginning to get pretty warm, so I shed my arm warmers, topped off with fuel, kissed Jo goodbye and I was off.

Aric drinking something other than beer

Jared Clark fueling up

Due to the bottle mishap, I never caught back up to Jason on the loop, but Jo told me he had just passed through the aid station 5 minutes before me. Within a half mile, I finally caught back up to him and we kept each other company for the next 17 miles.

Jason Howland has paced me in a 100 mile race, so we have a history of running together so it's a comfortable feeling and helps pass the time. I think in those earlier miles, I could have dropped Jason and made better time. But as the race unfolded, he could have done the same in the final miles. As it turned out, we were in it together, for better or for worse.

After a few miles of smooth jeep road, we come to the dreaded slickrock section of the course. This rock is tough to run because of the uneven surface, sudden drops, and lack of trail markers. But this particular section is also brutal because of the constant climbing.

In the beginning of this section, we hit a series of long, relentless climbs. They just seem to go on forever and when you think you're at the top, they go on some more. It was cute at first, but that didn't last long. I entered this section of the race feeling good, but it eventually got the better of me as my calves and hamstrings began to scream.

"I'll make ya famous!" They seemed to believe me.

 Despite the slow miles, Jason and I were picking runner's off at a pretty rapid clip. We were passing groups of 3 or 4 at a time and leaving them permanently behind us. We were setting our sights on clumps of runners and reeling them in. It became a game that propelled us forward.

Jason on the slickrock.

View of the Colorado River WAY down below the trail

More grinding uphill

 After the steep climbs were behind us, we encountered an endless stretch of rolling hills. These are the trails that avid rock crawlers use when they come to Moab with their Jeeps. Most of these sections require winches and a high ground clearance to maneuver. I'm painting a picture...this was steep, abusive terrain.

We slowly crawled up these hills and bombed back down the backside. Repeatedly. For miles.

I was getting tired and running low on fluids when we hit the final aid station at mile 30. I loaded my pack with water for the last 5 miles and was getting ready to leave when I was tempted to drink a cup of Coke that was so calling my name from the the aid station table. I usually avoid these things, but we were close to the finish, so I relented. I drank the Coke and it was COLD. I grabbed another and downed it, then another. And we headed out.

As we climbed out of the aid station, my stomach began to rebel. Drinking that Coke was suddenly an obvious mistake. I told Jason that I needed to walk for a minute while my stomach settled. He went along with it without complaint.

When we began running again, it was clear that I was on the "verge of the purge". I've only puked once during a race and that didn't end well (See Leadville 100, 2012). So I struggled to keep my stomach contents where they belong. This meant the occasional walking spell when I should have been running. Jason could have easily dropped me here, but he stuck it out.

We made our way off the rock and onto the last dirt road headed to the finish. We managed to pass a few more runner's in this section, but we also lost a spot or two in the process. It probably amounted to a net zero impact on our race.

The final section of the race was a series of switchbacks that led us off the mesa to the finish line. We headed down them with a purpose.

Home Stretch!

Ryan and Harrison enjoying some rest while they wait on the mortals to finish

BJ Burlison making it look easy

Me and Jason coming to the finish!

Stride for stride with a great friend!

Jason and I finished in 6:14:06. Without knowing the course, I figured a good time for me would have been around 6 hours, and if I hadn't lost my bottle early in the race, I would have hit that mark. Either way, I couldn't find a reason to be disappointed.

Where's the beer?

Any seat will do!

Dan Collins finishing with Daughter in tow!

Jason Howland and Dan Collins Celebrating a successful day.

My stomach finally settled after I managed a few long and not-so-tasty burps. I enjoyed a couple of beers and relaxed with the HUMR gang and our friends that travelled in from all over the country. It was a warm, beautiful day and there was nowhere I would have rather been.

Hanging with the cool kids

We continued to cheer for the other finishers, especially our friends, as they crossed the finish line.

The unstoppable Forest Stuart as he crossed the finish line!

I run a lot. I run a ridiculous amount of races and I train nearly every day. This comes with a steep price and I have to accept that if I choose to go that route, that price means that I get to have a few really good finishes every year, and a stack of "OK" finishes. I knew coming into the Moab Red Hot 55k, that this was going to be an "OK" kind of day, and regarding my finish time, I was exactly right. But the day was far better than "OK", it was amazing. I ran an amazing course in fantastic weather conditions, and I did it with a huge number of great friends. I really don't know how it could have been a better day.

This is why we moved to Utah. It's days like this that remind me of that.

I now have an uncharacteristically long break before my next race. Jo and I will be running the Antelope Island 100 mile trail race on March 22nd. This will be another local race and will be attended by some of the same amazing people that we shared the trail with in Moab this weekend.

Between now and then, I have training runs scheduled in Zion, Antelope Island and in the Wasatch. Antelope Island isn't really a goal race for 2013, but I want to finish strong and come out of it in good shape and ready for the Zion 100 the following month. All this is assuming that I don't get gored by a buffalo along the way.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see many of you out on the trail very soon!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Running the Caribbean 2013

It was with much anticipation that Jo and I crawled out of the frigid Wasatch Mountains and headed into the Caribbean for a week of running and racing. 

We had participated in the Cruise to Run adventure last year and were happy to be a part of it again this year. We were looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new friends, and getting a chance to run under the warm Caribbean sun.

The adventure starts in San Juan Puerto Rico, where we all gather a day or two before boarding our ship. 

View of Old San Juan with the fort visible in the background.

I woke up early on the morning of our departure and headed out for a run to the Fort San Filipe del Morro. It's a nice 7 mile run from our shabby, overpriced hotel. I set out at sunrise so I could avoid the hottest part of the day. 

After running this same route last year, I learned my lesson and brought a handheld bottle with me. After running in extremely cold temperatures for a few months, it's easy to forget how quickly I can become dehydrated. I was taking no chances!

View from the front of the fort.

Observation turret overlooking the coast.

Beautiful view of the coast from the fort.

Before heading back to the hotel, I met up with my friend, John West. I had met John on this trip last year and he eventually went on to pace me at the 2012 Leadville 100. It was nice to see John again and we caught up as we ran back to our hotels.

Our next stop on this trip is St. Croix. Each day presents a different type of race (some people like to call them "organized runs", but if I'm with a group of runners on a defined course, it's a race.). In St. Croix, we were scheduled to have a 5k prediction run. The goal for this race is to commit to a predicted finish time and see who can come closest to their prediction.

It's fairly well documented that I'm NOT a fast 5k runner, so this type of race eliminates a lot of pressure. While I'm not fast, I'm pretty good at setting an accurate pace. I came in 2nd place in this race last year and was hoping for another good finish.

Coming into St. Croix

View of the port area

Homes and villas in the valley

We were welcomed to the island by a fast moving rainstorm. It brought a few waves of intense rain and then moved off, leaving the streets and sidewalks covered in pools of water.

In the following picture, Bart Yasso is explaining the race rules, which include a ban on all watches, GPS devices and MP3 players. We're not allowed to have anything with us that can aid us in pacing or timing ourselves.

As the race started, I found my friend, Cathy Hopkins. Like last year, she and I had predicted similar finishing times, so I decided to run along with her and chat for a while. Cathy is an amazing athlete and I really enjoyed getting a chance to run with her.

The course was very flat and led us through a rural part of the island. We passed through farms, lined with Mahogany trees and tropical plants. It was a nice change of scenery.

It eventually became apparent that all my chatting had gotten in the way of my ability to manage my pace. I felt like my first mile was too fast and then began second guessing the pace I should use to finish the race. I eventually abandoned any sincere interest in winning and just eased into the finish.

Elvis and friends coming to the finish

Coming back from some bonus miles after the 5k

I had predicted a (very slow) finish time of 27:17. This seems random, but it's actually very well thought out. I missed my time by 28 seconds and came in at 26:49. That may be a decent finish in general terms, but I was WAY too far off my time to make it into the top 10 predictions.

It's all inconsequential because I had a great time on the run.

After the race, Jo and I found a nice beach and a great beach bar, down in Cane Bay. We threw our towel down, bought a few beers and spent the rest of the day soaking up the sun! It was a beautiful day.

Cane Bay

Beach at Cane Bay

Beach at Cane Bay

Our next adventure took us to St. Maarten for a 5k boardwalk run with an option to extend to 8k. I chose to extend my run.

Runners at the start, getting ready

Jo, getting all set for the start!

When the gun went off, a few of us, including Elvis, jumped into the lead. We were following a lead runner that was local to the island but we were also being directed along the course by the police. Because there were officers on the course, I assumed it was safe to pass the leader. After making the pass, Elvis and I were sailing along, well ahead of the other runner's. We continued to run for a while before realizing nobody was behind us.

Let me clarify...

I somehow managed to get lost during an URBAN 5K!!! I'm no stranger to getting lost in trail races, but this was certainly a first for me.

Elvis and I chatted about it for a while and decided to turn around at 1.6 miles and retrace our steps. This would take us back to the start line, where the final 3k loop picks up.

This was a solid plan!

Then I got lost on the way back. Hopelessly lost. I was zig zagging through the port area trying to find a sign of a race in progress. I stopped, listened, looked around...nothing!

So I continued to run in what SEEMED like the right direction. I eventual spotted a few runners as they crossed a street in front of me. I fell in behind them and made my way back and ran the 3k loop to finish my race.

My 8k race had become 9k.

After finishing the run, Jo and I met up with Laura Yasso and a few other PA trail runner's and we headed out for a trail run along the coastline.

Directions to the trail head were conflicting and spotty, so once again, we were running around, adding bonus miles to our planned run. But let's be honest...we're running on a beautiful Caribbean island. There are worse places to be lost.

We eventually found our trail and headed out.

The trail was mostly smooth, single track, but there were a few rocky and technical sections. It was a beautiful place to run and we took our time and enjoyed every bit of it.

Looking back toward the trail head.

The four young Amish runner's were in this group. These young guys are all very strong and talented runner's and they're great company on the trail.

Additionally, it's always great to run with Laura Yasso. She has an amazing running resume and has had top finishes in some of the most iconic ultra marathons in the country. She's been an amazing resource over my short ultra running career and I've really enjoyed our time together.

Single file up the trail

Laura Yasso taking in the view

Checking for stragglers and enjoying the view

Hidden cove along the trail

A bit of rocky uphill

The trail was a constant series of ups and downs and a great mix of footing. It would be the perfect trail for training if it wasn't at 60 feet above sea level.

The final hill!

Our trail adventure was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It was quiet, scenic and very fun. There were at least 12,000 tourists in the area that day and the 8 of us had this entire trail to ourselves!

Back on board...ordering a recovery beer!!!

Our next stop took us to Antigua for a 13k road run. The route took us from the downtown area and wound us through some farm country and ended at Fort Barrington. This is one of the many forts that surround these islands.

Coming into Antigua

Heading to the start line

Jody Friesen in the pace vehicle

It was a hot morning for this race, but there was some intermittent cloud cover that helped take the edge off. In spite of that, I was still sweating as I stood at the start line.

Elvis, once again in the lead

Trying to catch "The King"

My favorite part of this course is the first mile which runs us through downtown and passed all the schools. The kids come outside or hang out the windows for a chance to watch the race. It makes for a pretty cool atmosphere.

Local school kids watching the runners

After a few rolling hills, and a lot of asphalt, we turn onto dirt road that takes us to the base of the hill that houses Fort Barrington.

Coming to the Fort

Runners coming back down from touring the Fort before running back

Bart Yasso Cooling Off

Some of my favorite women. Helene Horn, Sarah Reinertsen, and Jo Agnew.

I lingered at the fort for a while and watched most of the other runners come in. I refilled my handheld and began a slow a run back to town. The clouds were gone and the sun was blazing, but we were getting a nice breeze off the water to keep us cool.

Me and Cathy Hopkins headed back to town.

After the run, Jo and I got a cab and headed to Valley Church Beach. We had visited this beach last year and loved it. It was a favorite spot for locals and had a very small crowd and a nice beach bar. On our trip last year the beach was almost empty. But like most great things, it has become very popular and is no longer secluded or private. We shared the beach with 300 other tourists.

Nonetheless, the beach was still stunning and the beer was cold. I can't ask for much more.


View at Valley Church Beach

Sampling the local beer...Wadadli. 

Our next destination was St. Lucia for the Vigie Lighthouse run. This is an island that we had never visited before and we were excited to check it out. I had heard a lot of great things about it and it lived up to its reputation.

Coming into St. Lucia

This was an 8k run that started near the port and ran around the nearby airport and up a fairly steep hill to the Vigie Lighthouse. The course stays flat until the ascent to the lighthouse.

I was feeling pretty good at the start of the race and I planned to run this one with some intensity. We were joined by some local runners, that happened to be world class athletes. Winning was out of the question with these guys around, but I wanted to make quick work of the distance.

Chasing Elvis down early!

After I got around Elvis, I was in the lead but being paced by one of the locals. I was running with purpose and he looked like he was just gliding along without effort. I was still able to hold a conversation with him without throwing up, so I definitely had a bit more in the tank.

Right before the ascent to the lighthouse, I got passed by one of the runners from our group. He was being paced by one of the locals too. I think they were only running with us at our pace out of respect, because these guys could have buried us whenever they wanted.

I pushed myself up the hill and finished strong. I enjoyed a cold bottle of water and waited on the others before turning back toward the port. The view from the lighthouse was pretty awesome, so I enjoyed lingering for a while.

Vigie Lighthouse

Me, Jo, Sarah and Brook enjoying the sights and the rainbow in the background

After chatting and resting, I headed back toward the port, keeping an easy, relaxed pace. I took the time to enjoy the things that I missed on the way to the lighthouse.

View from the hill below the lighthouse

After the run, we headed to Choc Beach. After asking around, we were assured that this beach would be fairly empty and it had a great bar and restaurant on it. Unlike Valley Church, we were pleasantly surprised that the word on the street was accurate. We had most of the beach to ourselves.

Jo testing the water

Taking advantage of another local beer. Piton, named after two peaks on the island


Our 5th and final stop is Barbados. This is a 5k that is also open to the public and draws a lot of very fast locals. This is also the hottest island and a course with the least amount of cover from the blistering sun. The course is flat, but the extreme exposure makes it challenging.

Coming into Barbados.

Jo getting ready to kill this race!

Some of the local talent. They take running seriously on this island

As soon as the race started, I knew I was going to have a bad run. My legs felt heavy and stiff and my turnover was terrible. This is almost definitely a result of running so hard the previous day, but I'm sure that running these short races every day had taken a toll.

I was expecting a sub 21 minute race and abandoned that notion within the first 100 meters. I still applied a lot of effort, but I wasn't getting the benefit that I should have. With no way to improve the situation, I just kept rolling along as best I could.

The way this course is laid out, we get to see the other runners twice during the race on out and back sections. It was a lot of fun to see everybody and cheer them all on. It's also nice to see who is beating me and who is gaining on me.

Near the end of the race, my legs loosened up and my turnover started to improve. But by then, it didn't matter.

I crossed the timing mat at Brandon Beach in 23:30.

Because I run so many 50 and 100 mile races, people assume 5k's are easy for me. They aren't.

Bart Yasso Crossing the finish line

After this race, we had a long awards ceremony accompanied by local entertainment and cold beer.

in 2012, our group drank every ounce of alcohol in the bar. The owner was forced to go to a nearby bar and replenish his supply, but he still couldn't keep up with the demand. Fortunately, he was far better prepared for us this year and nobody went thirsty.

Bart and Sarah managing the awards ceremony

Stilt Man! This guy must have a killer set of abs!

Cassius Clay (yeah, he was once a professional boxer) provides our fire eating entertainment!

Mamma Sally and Bart sharing a dance!

Laura partying with the Amish!

The Amish had reason to celebrate because they cleaned up at the awards ceremony. They all placed in their age groups and had stellar performances.

Jo, Johnathan Lantz, Amos King, Laura Yasso, Jake Beiler and Elam King

Me and Sarah Reinertsen enjoying the post race festivities

After the ceremonies ended, we decided to stay right on Brandon Beach and enjoy our last day on the islands.

The locals take a lot of pride in their Banks Beer. I tried a few just to form my own opinion

All the pretty ladies

It was great to see so many friends and to meet a lot of amazing people. This trip draws people from all walks of life and all ability levels. It provides us all with a unique opportunity to meet people and have experiences that we would otherwise never have.

Unfortunately, this may be the last year of Cruise to Run, but there's a chance it may be back in 2015. I certainly hope it makes a return because this is a great way to see a lot of islands in a way that most people never will.

I came away from this week of running with a firm understanding that I need to run more short races. I did pretty well every day, but I definitely have room to improve in the short distances. Speed work is nonexistent in my world.

I want to especially thank Jody Friesen for putting this adventure together. It takes a lot of hard work and the logistics involved are overwhelming. Jody did a fantastic job of making this happen for all of us.

Jo and I have a weekend off but will be heading to Moab for the Red Hot 55k on February 16th. We cant wait to see some of you there!