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!

Monday, August 18, 2014

2014 Leadville Trail 100: Chasing the Big Buckle

"What you perceive as failure today may actually be a crucial step towards the success you seek. Never give up." 
-  Richelle E. Goodrich

That quote is what kept me going for so long. It encouraged me to "Dig Deep" when I fell short. It helped me to maintain focus, to train and to stay diligent in my preparations to conquer defeat and return in the hopes of achieving my goals. 

That's right! That quote helped me to finally find my proper place on the podium at the Leadville Beer Mile!!

Last year was the inaugural Leadville Beer Mile, and faced with a stacked field and lack of proper conditioning, I was only able to muster a measly 5th place finish. Rather than slinking away in shame, I held my head high, made plans for redemption, and returned a year later to exact my revenge!

The Start of the Beer Mile
Photo by Abby Dunn

To the common spectator, the Beer Mile may seem like pure silliness, but I can assure you, it's serious business! It requires an equal mixture of athletic prowess, advanced beer drinking ability and a total control of your natural gag reflex. These are all ingredients that combine to make the perfect athlete.

Trying to Breathe

I could write poetically for hours on the topic of all the brave Beer Milers that have made valuable contributions to society, but the topic is so advanced, and somewhat polarizing, that it's best if I just summarize my experience...

3rd place at the Leadville Beer Mile is a feat that may never be bested and I'm cool with that! Training and perseverance paid off. Next year...I'm aiming for the WIN!

Why, YES! I Think I WILL Have Another!
Photo by Abby Dunn

As a matter of coincidence, that same determination to meet my relentlessly unfounded and sometimes unrealistic expectations, is also what has kept me coming back to the Leadville 100 for the last four years.

When I ran my first Leadville 100 in 2011 (also my first 100 miler), I had a goal of finishing the race in under 25 hours. I had absolutely no reason to expect that finish time, but it was my goal nonetheless. I found no small amount of disappointment when I finished in 25:50 that year. I vowed to return the following year and avenge my meaningless and self imposed failure.

Returning in 2012, a much smarter runner with several 100 milers under my belt, I went on to post a time of 28:30. So much for course knowledge and training!

Back in 2013, now a veteran 100 miler, I went on to post a time of 26:19!!! Things weren't getting any better.

In preparation for my 2014 race, I actually took the time to review my tactics and came to the conclusion that my finish times MAY (no scientific evidence) be impacted by the fact that I always run an ultra the weekend before Leadville. So in 2014, I decided to take that weekend off for rest.

The sacrifices we make to meet our goals are sometimes unbearable.

Me and My Good Friend, Rob Goekermann Lined up for the Leadville 100

Leadville is comfortable. It's familiar ground by now and there is no fear of the unknown. I wasn't nervous about the race, but I was a little annoyed that I was STILL chasing a sub 25 hour finish. My butterflies had been replaced by a sense of annoyance that I was once again, lining up for the race that kept defeating me. I would rather have butterflies.

Here We Go! Again!

As we set off, leaving Leadville at 4:00 AM, I felt like I had a solid plan for success. I planned to run slow early, in hopes of being fast later. I had never attempted such contradictory race strategy, but nothing else was working so I went with it.

As we rolled down the Boulevard, leaving the dimly lit town in our dust, I maintained that focus. "Stay slow, to be FAST". I slipped to unfamiliar territory in the middle of the pack and tried to blend in by making casual conversation about the virtues of barefoot running, Paleo diets and crossfit, all popular topics based on my casual observation.

I rolled through the Tabor Boat Ramp, swapping bottles and getting some direction from my bride. Again, a very familiar feeling. Things were a little slower than normal, but all is well.

Reaching the May Queen aid station, about 10 minutes off my normal pace, I change the bottles out for a pack filled with Hammer Endurolyte Fizz and Montana Huckleberry gels and took a fresh bottle of HEED. Jo and I exchange a few words as she walks me toward the trailhead, a quick kiss and I'm through mile 13.5, feeling good.

The change in race strategy made everything feel different, but that was ok because I needed this race to be different. I needed to be better, and up until now, the same old strategy wasn't working. Fighting instinct, I stayed the course and followed the plan. "Stay slow, to be FAST".

 Heading UP Sugarloaf

In previous years I had run hard up the Sugarloaf ascent, especially when the cameras were busy capturing my athleticism and ultimate demise. This year, I walked more. A lot more. Focusing on conservation and finding a way to be satisfied by being passed...stay focused...be humble...a constant mantra.

The Famous and VERY Ugly Powerline Descent

After finishing the ascent up Sugarloaf and meandering down Powerline like an old man, I rolled along the short section of asphalt towards the Outward Bound aid station.

Coming Into Outward Bound
 Photo by Denise Ricks

Jo had a fresh hydration pack waiting for me, fully loaded and ready to go. We swapped packs, gave all the essential updates and parted ways. We were both smiling still, so I knew things were going better than normal.

 Photo by Denise Ricks

Outbound from Outward Bound
Photo by Denise Ricks

Leaving Outward Bound, I knew I wouldn't see Jo for about 4 hours as I made my way to Twin Lakes. I settled in, head down and slowly picked my way toward our next rendezvous.

Half Pipe Aid Station

I rolled through the Half Pipe aid station with no intention of lingering. I topped my pack off with some water and continued my relentless trudge toward Twin Lakes.

After some typical Jeep road, we veered onto the Colorado Trail for some fun along it's inviting single track.

The Colorado Trail

As always, I could hear the ruckus of the Twin Lakes aid station well in advance of my arrival. Fortunately, I know the trail well enough to realize I have some distance to cover before beginning to relish in the idea of Hope Pass.

I was settled into a comfortable run and taking my time!

Dropping into Twin Lakes

The Twin Lakes aid station is my ALL time favorite aid station. The crowd is intense, the volunteers are incredible and the thought of these things diminishes the reality of the upcoming climb.

Jo was ready for me when I arrived. She fed me an ice cold bottle of HEED, swapped my packs out and gave me all the mental and emotional encouragement I could have asked for.

Multitasking at Twin Lakes
 Photo by Denise Ricks

Jo and I Walking Toward Hope Pass
 Photo by Denise Ricks

Leaving Twin Lakes, I fell into a leisurely gait through the meadows leading toward the Arkansas River, and eventually, Hope Pass. The river levels were high this year and the meadow was flooded, leaving standing water between me and the start of my ascent. I trudged along.

Arkansas River Crossing

My ascent up Hope Pass was nothing short of typical. I would love to say that I powered straight up the mountain, leaving trail runners in my wake, but that simply didn't happen.

I hiked. Slowly.

There was a lot of shuffling of the field on the climb. People falling away, others surging ahead. I was steady! Slow....and steady.

I eventually broke through the tree line, revealing the Hopeless aid station and it's team of llamas that graciously pack the aid station supplies to 12,000 plus feet.

Llamas...Doing What Llamas do, I Guess

More Llama Action

The novice Leadville runner will associate the aid station with the end of the ascent. WRONG! Still plenty of sweating and swearing before cresting the top of Hope Pass. PLENTY!

Finally Reaching Hope Pass
 Photo by Caleb Wilson

The descent toward Winfield was just as I had nightmared many times before. Steep, rocky, crowded, exposed and steep. Wait...I said "steep" twice. Whatever, it's probably fitting.

Coming into Winfield

I reached Winfield about 15 minutes slower than normal, but I also felt much more comfortable than I usually do. I was still moving well and feeling good.

Stay slow to be fast!

Being Greeted by The Best
 Photo by Denise Ricks

I stayed in Winfield for a few minutes while I fueled up, hydrated and assessed the situation.

It was HOT out, so I hydrated more. I was hungry, so I ate. My legs were sore, so I rested them. None of this is complicated stuff, but you sometimes need to stop and focus on your needs before moving on. Something I frequently forget to do.

Getting Ready to Start the Return
 Photo by Denise Ricks

I was also picking up my talented pacer, Justin Ricks. Justin is an incredible runner with a lot of knowledge and insight about the sport and I was elated to have him help me over the pass.

Me, Jo and Justin Rolling Out
 Photo by Denise Ricks

Justin had his work cut out for him. Admittedly, I'm a giant freaking baby when I climb Hope Pass, inbound. I warned Justin of this reality in advance, so any complaining coming from him would be totally unwarranted. He was warned!

I planned to focus on keeping my heart rate down on the climb, so I stopped frequently to let it settle. I was also battling a sour stomach, so stopping wasn't really an option anyway. If I had pushed the ascent too hard, I was going to puke. Justin, being a savvy and experienced vomiter, was willing to take all the time we needed.

The climb was slow, but it always is.

Justin provided constant encouragement as we made the climb. His words were appropriate and timely. He kept me moving with a gentle hand, and through him, we made steady progress.

Justin and I Topping Out at Hope Pass
Photo by Caleb Wilson 

Justin, proving that he had keen skills with a watch and an eye for fueling tendencies, reminded me repeatedly that I hadn't been eating enough. My stomach was fine with not eating, but my body needed nourishment. As we dropped into the Hopeless aid station, we arranged my dinner plan. I wanted Coke and mashed potatoes. I ended up with a cheap Coke alternative and some noodles. My stomach did not agree with the menu items.

Hopeless Aid Station

We didn't linger long before finishing our descent towards Twin Lakes. We made conversation as I picked my way off the mountain. Eventually, I began to feel better and we ran more. Then we ran harder.

Twin Lakes

Coming into Twin Lakes
 Photo by Denise Ricks

 Photo by Denise Ricks

Justin would be done pacing me at Twin Lakes. But before he wrapped up, he helped get me seated, fed and ready for nighttime running. I chugged some HEED, ate some aid station food and took the time I needed to properly prepare for the evening ahead.

I can't thank Justin enough for the excellent work he did for me. Pacing is a selfless act and I know I would have suffered severely if it wasn't for his encouragement and support.

Fuel UP!
 Photo by Denise Ricks

Jo Leading Me Toward Leadville
 Photo by Denise Ricks

I had a little less than 10 hours to make it back to Leadville to claim my "BIG" Buckle. A 14:45 pace would seal the deal, but that certainly wasn't a sure thing. Not at Leadville and not with my track record. Nonetheless, I was damn sure gonna try.

I made the gradual ascent toward the Colorado Trail. I had focused on conservation in the early miles, but I slowly began to spend all that I had saved away. I pushed my way up the mountain, letting my energy go. I was making good time and feeling strong.

I eventual reached the tipping point of the climb and began a smooth, gradual descent toward Treeline. I ran, letting my legs fly. In past years, I would have been walking most of this. Not this year.

"Stay slow, to be fast" had paid off and I was reaping the benefits.

I flew through the Half Pipe aid station, topping off with fluids, Hammering a gel and I was off, headed toward Outward Bound.

My feet hit the pavement that leads me to the aid station. I remembered walking that section the last three years of the race, the misery of shuffling down the road as race crew traffic poured by, blinding me with their headlamps.

This year, I ran.

When I reached the Outward Bound aid station, I took time to fuel up, chat with Jo and make sure my gear was squared away for the climb up Powerline. After a few quick minutes, I was on the road again.

Powerline is a physical and mental drain. After making this trip a few times, I think I've conquered the mental aspect, but the physical demand remains. I hunkered down, hands on knees and made the ascent.

I passed a lot of struggling runners, arguing pacers, and demoralized souls on the climb. I ignored it all and pushed my way to the top.

After the crest, I took a few minutes to walk without the burden of defying gravity, collected my breath and RAN toward May Queen.

Jo met me at May Queen with a fresh, fully loaded hydration pack. I grabbed it, kissed her and left quickly. Only 13 miles to go and I was running short on time.

The traverse around Turquoise Lake in the morning is fun and light hearted. After 87 mountain miles, it's a daunting nightmare! I slugged it out with the rocks, roots, shadows and demons. I kept moving as quickly as I could, keeping a mindful eye on my watch.

The watch taunted me with promises of receiving the long sought Big Buckle. Then suffering a rough patch along the lake, it would revoke all the earlier promises of achievement.

I almost threw my watch into Turquoise Lake just to make it shut up!

Eventually, I emptied out on the Boulevard, heading toward 6th Street in Downtown Leadville. I tried to run, but it came out like a shuffle. I pushed, trying to spend everything that I saved up. There just wasn't much left to spend. Still...I pushed. My watch taunted.

I picked off a few runners as I turned left off the dirt and my feet hit pavement. Soon after, I made a right hand turn onto 6th street, making that final, painful climb. Near the top, I could see the lights of the finish line. I RAN!

I didn't break stride as I crossed the finish to collect my 4th hug from Marilee, my kiss from my wife and the big buckle that I had been chasing for so long.

Back Home and Early Enough to Celebrate!

A Familiar Face

And my Hug!

I finished in 24:44:20, completing the journey I had started back in 2011. More than satisfied, more than relieved...I was exhilarated!

Persistence, race strategy, luck....all of those things played a role in finally achieving this goal, but none of it would be possible without my wife, my friends and all the people that care about me and this sport. It's humbling to know that so many sacrifice so much to help me make these things happen.

Now that this box is checked off, it's time to prepare for the Wasatch 100. Maybe there are new goals waiting for me to conquer!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

2014 Jupiter Peak Steeplechase: How to Make a Long Day Out of a Short Run

Stee-ple-chase    noun
: a race in which people riding horses jump over fences, water, etc.
: a race in which runners jump over fences or water.

I just want to be very clear about this...the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase is not a mud run or obstacle race! There were no fences or water hazards to jump over and I didn't see a single horse! Not even an army surplus cargo net to climb!

This is a 16 (ish) mile trail race that starts at the base of the ski areas in Park City and immediately heads up (UP!) for the first 7 or 8 miles before looping back toward the finish line at the resorts.

I say "16 (ish)" and "7 or 8" because I don't wear a GPS, so I never really know where the hell I am.

They Tell me That People Sometimes Ski in Park City, Too. Weird.

I very rarely run short distance races like this. It's easy for me to forget there are serious differences between the ultra running community and the general trail running community. It's not a bad thing, I just find myself being reminded that differences exist.

For instance, the start line at an ultra is pretty low key, with people chatting so carelessly they sometimes don't notice the race has started without them. In contrast, before this race started, the parking lot was full of runners doing sprints to warm up for the start. I considered doing the same thing, but then remembered I really don't give a crap. I figured I would warm up somewhere in that first 8 mile climb.

I was here to run, not to race. To be totally honest, I don't even know how to properly race these distances. Everything is different! Pacing obviously, but fueling is different, too. I've spent years conditioning my body to run kinda slow...and very far. It's not easy to change that.

The race started at 8:00 (I know! The day was half over already!) and we started the climb on a service road before hopping on to some pretty sweet single track.

Heading for the Hills!

Typical Park City Trail. Very nice! Can you believe they let people ski here?

I had run this race last year, but I had forgot how runnable the first several miles were. We're averaging about 450 feet of gain per mile on the way to the peak at 10,400' but it never really felt daunting. I won't lie, I was hoping for more hiking and hardcore vert!

Somewhere above Park City

Like all races, the field was sorting itself out for the first few miles as people found their rhythm. I had planned to lock onto runners that I perceived to be running at a slow and easy pace because I wasn't in a hurry and was hoping for a consistent effort, not a mad dash up the mountain.

I latched onto a runner that was the perfect candidate to pull me up the mountain. He was the ideal balance of "Not a Bad Pace" and "Damn, I Should Pass this Dude!". He motioned for me to come around a few times (probably because he could feel my breath on his neck) but I declined, telling him I was right where I wanted to be. After the 4th wave around, I started to feel bad, so I lurched passed him. As I cut back in front of him, my left foot caught one of those invisible objects on the trail and I went down like a ton of bricks. It was one of those falls that you never see coming, you just realize it happened after you're already on the ground.

It hurt.

I was content laying there on the side of the trail, looking up at the sky. It was a gorgeous day and the weeds I had landed in smelled really nice. I probably got up because runners kept asking if I was ok, and I got tired of waving them off, telling them I was, "Great, just chilling in the weeds".

You Can See Why I Fell! Gnarly Trail...

And THIS Dude! I Dunno What It's All About...It's Just There.

Somewhere around mile 5 (totally guessing, here), I was churning uphill, staring at my feet with my mind somewhere else when I looked around and realized I was all alone. There was nobody in sight and it was dead quiet. Fortunately, I've experienced this enough to instantly realize that I somehow got off course. This isn't even remotely unusual for me so I wasn't fazed by it. I don't know how I manage to be so consistent when it comes to getting off course, but I have a special ability for it. I got lost in a 5k road race once. That's really hard for normal people to do.

I spun around and enjoyed some downhill running until I found the course and fell back in line, even deeper in the pack.

The climb began to get steeper and I settled into a hike before rounding the corner and seeing the climb to Jupiter Peak. This climb sorta sucks.

The Steep Stuff

The "trail" to the top is loose and hard to get decent footing. It's not a well defined route, so runners were meandering all over the face, trying to find the best route. Let's be honest, unless you find an escalator, there isn't an easy route.

View Near the Summit

Aid Station at the Top with Rock Music, But NO BEER. Ugh...Not an Ultra...

After the first summit, we bomb down to a saddle, cross a ridge line and make another tough ascent to the top of Tri-County Peak. Most people that haven't run the course aren't expecting the second peak. Disappointment abounds.

Leaving Tri-County Peak, I point my shoes downhill and enjoy the benefit of gravity. The rest of the trail is almost entirely smooth single track and easy running.

Love the Aspens

Around mile 12 (we've established by now that I really have no idea what mile I may be at), I was well into my rhythm, once again focusing on the trail and the guy in front of me as we ran down a rocky jeep road. I noticed a narrow trail shoot off to my right, but paid no attention to it. Several minutes later, I could hear a large group screaming for a runner that had gone off course. I immediately assumed somebody had turned down that narrow trail I had passed. The screaming continued, so I stopped and looked back up the mountain. Way up the mountain! Yeah...I was the dude they were screaming for. As it turned out, the narrow trail I totally SAW and IGNORED was the course. I tried to yell for the runner in front of me, but he was wearing earbuds and never heard a word.

I started the LONG climb back up the mountain and got back on course.

As you might imagine, my level of "Give-a-Damn" had dwindled down to nothing. However, I had a beer cooler at the finish line, so there was still a good reason to keep the pace up.

I could see the ski resort as I made my way off the mountain but we were running down shallow switchbacks, so my progress was painfully slow. When I started to encounter hikers, I knew I was pretty close. Most hikers in Park City don't venture too far from the Mercedes.

The trail emptied out onto asphalt and I cruised across the finish line.

Despite a hard fall and two diversions from the course, I still had a good time. The course is fun and beautiful, it was a gorgeous day and I logged the training run I came for.

Most importantly, I ran easy enough to avoid the need for any recovery time. I have several big mountain races coming up soon, and I need to stay fit and ready for some big climbs at high altitude.

El Vaquero Loco in Afton, Wyoming next weekend! Twice as long and three times as hard, and most importantly, it's ten times more scenic!

Thanks for following along!