Saturday, August 28, 2010

Leadville: The Gear Edition…and yes, The Buckle!

Very shortly before heading out to Leadville I came across something on the Ultralist that interested me greatly. Someone posted the question “Does anyone out there have a way of extending the battery life of your Garmin and iPod?” The first obvious answer was “I have multiple of each” and the GeekGrl and I have an AC adapter that can be plugged into the car and you can then plug in a laptop. That would be one way to do it but it’s bulky and you have to give up your device while it is recharging.

My main interest was in recording Garmin data as long as possible. One person on the Ultralist threw out an answer that immediately got my attention. He said he had used a pocket-sized USB charging device made by Duracell when he ran Hardrock last month and was able to keep his Garmin recording the whole time. Bingo, exactly what I was looking for! I am not a tech guy so I had never heard of such a thing…sorry if they have been on the market for 40 years, but I was excited. I ordered mine from Amazon and it arrived in plenty of time for me to give it a try. I used it at Leadville and it worked like a champ! Coupled with my Garmin 310XT I had plenty of battery life to get me through 27 and a half hours.

During the race I ran all the way from the start to Winfield and then back to Twin Lakes, so about 60 miles, on the battery life of my 310XT. When I got to Twin Lakes the Garmin was at 3% battery life left. I had planned on getting my Duracell USB charger at that time since night would be falling and I knew I would be doing a lot of hiking. I hooked the Duracell to my Garmin and it started re-charging and continued recording my data. Everything is plenty light enough and small enough that I just carried it in one hand while I held my Gerber flashlight in the other and I was wearing my Black Diamond Ion headlamp so I had plenty of light. By the time I reached Pipeline, about 12.5 miles down the road, my Garmin was fully recharged and I relinquished my Duracell to the GeekGrl for the remainder of the race.

As far as my lighting goes the Gerber Omnivore Flashlight is awesome. It throws out a ton of light, is lightweight, tough and miserly with battery life. The Black Diamond Ion is similarly awesome. I largely blame my DNF at Rocky Raccoon for having a poor headlamp. It may have been the batteries not delivering enough juice but for whatever reason the beam could barely penetrate the deep and sometimes foggy darkness of the East Texas pine forest at night and I was left to crouch and squint for hours on end until I could barely move. The Ion slices through the night like nobody’s business. Sometimes I wonder if I will ignite the trees with the beam.

Another important item of gear in any ultrarunners arsenal is the drop bag. I used to own a Kayak so the first time I did an ultra that required drop bags I had some transparent NRS Dry-stow Dry Bags laying around the house. They are awesome as drop bags because they are very durable, weather tight and easy to spot in the pile of other drop bags. I think if I were to do an ultra that was likely to have a lot of rain and humidity I might try and find some kind of drying agent to toss into the bottom of the bag and would be careful not to let rain fall into the bag but this bag would definitely be my choice.

For the crew vehicle of course I selected the perfect vehicle for the ultrarunning multisport enthusiast, the Honda Element. In the back of that bad boy I left one back seat to create seating for three and I laid out a 10-inch thick futon mattress complete with flannel sheets and a heavy down comforter. Behind the back seat I strapped in a clear plastic 4-drawer organizer. One drawer had my medical supplies, one had my extra nutrition, one had my day running clothes and one had my night running clothes. Of course I had to have some extra bags for extra cold weather gear and just lots of spare shirts and shoes just to be safe. I also had a mummy-style sleeping bag in case I needed rescue from hypothermia but it was only ever pressed into service as the GeekGrls ultrawarm hoodie.

Last but not least were the gear closest to me. The bottom half is the hardest to manage so that’s all I’ll cover. For underwear I use the Asics Transitive Seamless Brief. I have worn this on several shorter runs and two 100-mile runs and they work awesome. For shorts I wear Zoot 8-inch seam tri shorts. I like the compression and honestly a compression short is the only short I can wear that doesn’t chafe after maybe 6 to 8 miles. I have tried several compression options and the Zoot is the only one I have found so far that is also durable. I have big thighs so there is a lot of friction. Other shorts are ground to shreds in short order but my Zoots have withstood every 100-mile finish and attempt I have made as well as numerous other shorter runs and races. I bought two pair in a sale a few years back and I am still on pair number one.

The feet, of course, are the beginning and end of ultrarunning. I wear Injinji socks because they help keep my toes from blistering better than anything else. I tape most of my toes to protect the tips but even with toe tale and regular socks I still get blisters between my toes. My one complaint about the Injinjis is that they are not particularly durable for the cost. They always wear out right at the ball of the foot sometimes in as few as 10 wears. Sometimes they last much longer you just have to be ready for variable quality. I also used compression socks. These are difficult to deal with in an ultra because they are hard to get on and off and so you are far less likely to check your feet because you may be too weak or your legs may be too crampy to get the things back on. Even with help they take a lot of time and effort to put on. However, you can cut the feet off them and turn them into compression sleeves. These work great for less money though Zensah has put some lower cost product on the market since I first shopped for this item so I am likely to give them a try. I coupled my Injinjis with my compression “sleeves” and it was a perfect combination. My left calf muscle was threatening to go out on me by mile 42 and this combo held it strong all the way to the finish. Injinji has a pair of compression socks but I’m not a fan of burning money and that’s what I would be doing buying them. While I love Injinji I don’t trust their quality enough to part with $38 - $44 for a single pair that may last a couple years or just a month.

Finally, the shoes. I have worn and loved New Balance shoes for the past five years but New Balance doesn’t love me. All my favorites have been redesigned to the point that I just can’t wear them anymore. I have been hunting desperately for a new pair of trail shoes and finally settled on the Mizuno Wave Ascend 5. This shoe rules! The Ascend is relatively light weight, has a very aggressive tread, water drains from it like a sieve, it has a reasonably low profile and a nice roomy toe box. The closest I’ve come to a comparable shoe is the Asics trail shoe but the logo they sew to the side of the shoe always causes me blisters on the side of my feet so I can’t wear them.

I almost forgot, the best piece of equipment that made it all possible, something special my parents gave me, the feet that carried me through.

So here it is by popular demand, the Leadville buckle. This baby is so shiny you can see my reflection in it as I snap the picture.

Good god, enough Leadville already, I have other things to do!

Next up, Rio Del Largo…what was I thinking?!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Fish Hatchery to a New Day: Leadville Race Report Part Three

When Tim and I arrived at Fish Hatchery he immediacy peeled off to get the GeekGrl and make sure she cut the feet off my compression socks. I had used one pair of compression socks to hold my calf together from Winfield in and by the time I had been wearing the socks for 27 miles they had pressed my toes together and blisters had developed, popped and torn away. During the foot taping break at Pipeline I changed back to Injinjis but in our trip from Pipeline to Fish Hatchery it was clear that my calf would not last up Sugarloaf so I knew I still needed the compression and cutting the feet off is a little trick I had learned from the GeekGrl. Coupled with the Injinjis it worked great.

So apart from the sock maneuver when I came rolling in to Fish Hatchery my next pacer Mark was ready to take over for the next nine miles. Earlier in the day Mark had already taken another friend from Winfield up and over Hope Pass and in to Twin Lakes. During that journey he had a runner with all her faculties; by the time Mark got me my faculty had left for summer break and he was left to push a hyperactive golem up and over the dreaded Sugarloaf. We departed at a hobble and then a walk and then a jog. Amazingly enough I actually felt like I had been getting stronger since Pipeline when I was handed the magic elixir.

The climb over Sugarloaf is one of the most dreaded events in the Leadville Trail 100 not because it is as formidable as Hope Pass but because it occurs at about mile 79 and by most runners it is hit somewhere around 2 or 3 in the morning. Not only is there the time and distance factor but Sugarloaf is a psychological killer. In the dark you can’t see the top and there are about five false summits. The climb hits you up front with a steep, rocky slog up a jeep road and when you reach the top you feel very grateful and then there is a little downhill run that immediately turns upward into the second climb. This goes a bit less steep, flattens and then climbs again then takes a turn that looks like it will flatten and then it turns back into a climb and it goes on thusly until you reach the top.

Mark kept talking to me throughout the climb and I was telling him what exactly to expect from the climb since I had done it in the night during training. The combination of his talking and me describing made going up Sugarloaf almost like as easy as ride up an escalator. During the course of our climb while we were taking I mentioned to Mark that it looked like we were heading into the last ascent of the five false summits of Sugarloaf and he said “So this is the last ascent?” and just at that moment we were passing a zombie and his pacer and the zombie said “What, there is one more ascent?!” to which I said, “yeah” and he replied “SON OF A BITCH!” and slogged on. I assured him that he would know the top when there are no power lines in sight or hearing because just below the top of the last climb the power lines take a sharp turn off to the left, I think that is the south, so when you are at the crest they are no longer present.

After climbing sugarloaf Mark and I broke into a run on the downhill slope for as long as we could. The road down the inbound side of Sugarloaf is not steep but it is rocky and that late in the game when running at night you really don’t want to take any chances. We walked and talked and were eventually at the bottom turning on to Hagerman Pass road, the dirt road that connects up to the section of the Colorado trail that represents the final 2.5 mile leg to May Queen, the first and last aid station of the race, 13.5 short miles to the finish line. When we hit Hagerman Pass road I was ready to run. I told Mark this may be one of the last sections I was able to run so I wanted to take advantage of it and we really pounded it out. My legs hurt with every footfall but I just kept in mind that every step I ran was cutting huge time off what would otherwise be achieved through walking.

After we turned onto the Colorado Trail it became rocky single track again and there wasn’t much running to be done. I told Mark that there were four bridges along the trail with the fourth being immediately before the parking lot that was maybe 1200 yards from the May Queen aid station. As we were walking along the trail at a pretty good clip I stepped on a large rock on a downhill step and my right foot slid forcefully to the front of my shoe and my toenails seemed to catch fabric and were jammed backwards. The pain was excruciating and I let out a yell. Mark asked what had happened and I told him and said that I would probably end up losing those toenails. Mark came back with the perfect response…”Well, you have five more on the other foot, don’t you? How many toe nails do you need?” It just cracked me up. I agreed, how dare I be a greedy toe mail miser me and my fancy ten toe nails. The moment of humor almost completely dissipated the pain and we forged on into the night.

For the record I only have two or three toe nails that are serious candidates for falling off, four at most and they are not all on one foot so it looks like there is a good chance that I will keep all my fancy nails.

When we arrived at May Queen I really was out of it. I don’t remember Mark leaving my side I just remember the GeekGrl arriving and ready to run. I know Tim was there as well and I think I saw another friend named Steve but I don’t know what, if any, role they played. I grabbed some food and a couple cokes and was just completely focused on getting the hell out of May Queen and to the finish line. May Queen, surprisingly, is an aid station where a lot of people finally drop from the race. The problem that you face at May Queen is that you are pretty exhausted and your body is really trying to shut down so you don’t have much ability to generate your own heat. Combine that with the fact that it gets much colder there because it is both deep in the night and next to a large body of water, Turquoise Lake, and you have a recipe for hypothermia.

So, I was focused on getting out of May Queen and the GeekGrl was to pace me at least 5 miles down the trail to the Tabor boat ramp. From somewhere I got the news that a friend Margaret had only left the aid station 10 minutes ahead of me and then another friend Jean had left about 5 minutes before her. I’m not sure why but I had a strong desire to catch them so I took off running as hard as I could. I could tell that the GeekGrl was straining to keep up with me but she was hanging on so I kept pushing. At one point a runner called out to her and said “Hey, the pacer isn’t supposed to be that far behind their runner” but we just kept on trucking. First I caught and passed Margaret and then I went looking for Jean. I soon found and passed her as well and we hurried on down to the Tabor boat ramp where we were to meet back up with Mark and Tim. The GeekGrl’s plan was to drop me off at Tabor and let Tim pace me to the finish but when we arrived they weren’t there. We called their names but no answer so we forged ahead; the GeekGrl was going to take me to the finish line.

I was pretty winded from the recent burst of running so we started walking at a descent pace and just kept each other company. In fairly short order Margaret caught back up with us and had a fresh pacer. She passed us and continued running and I immediately took chase running just a couple steps behind. However, the GeekGrl was starting to fade and I knew she would be unable to hold the pace for the next seven miles so I broke off chase and eased into a walk. She admonished me like any good pacer and told me that I should leave my pacer behind and I put my arm around her shoulder and said, “Sure, but I’m not leaving my wife behind” and then we strolled through the Colorado morning together, watched the sun rise over Turquoise Lake and talked about our life together, the adventures we have had and the adventures yet to come. It was a magical experience. The veil of Leadville had been lifted from my eyes and like fog on a lake being burned away by the morning sun my life, and my wife were revealed again to fresh eyes.

The finish was glorious! I had lived within the confines of Leadville for six months and completed my Race Across the Sky in 27 hours, 35 minutes, and 31.2 seconds. I was surrounded by friends who hugged me and congratulated my effort. My cousin Chris and his wife drove up from the Denver area and spent time with us and went to the awards ceremony. I could simply not grasp the magnitude of my accomplishment, it is really something that is so much bigger than I. It felt like toughing the sun but I was more than happy to retreat from the moment into a good cup of coffee and joyous conversation with friends.

Ultramarathon is life. We forge ahead with our brazen egos, pound our chests and howl at the moon but it takes its toll, it beats us down, it makes us cry and in the end, if we are lucky, we enjoy fellowship with friends, we experience the kindness of strangers, the love of family and the peace of mind that we have not only come to the end but come to a good end.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

From Windield to Fish Hatchery: Leadville Race Report Part Two

I arrived at Winfield and like everyone else was immediately shuttled over to a scale where I was found to be five pounds down from my starting weight or 199. I was feeling hot and tired and was worried because I had gotten hints that my left calf was starting to give out. I headed into the aid tent where several runners were sitting and looking beleaguered but I was immediately intercepted and the GeekGrl, Tim and Jane took me over to a special place they had set up for me out in the open air. The GeekGrl explained to me that it was stifling hot in that aid tent and I needed the breeze. Meanwhile Tim appeared by my side holding a giant umbrella over my head to shade me from the mid-day sun and then the GeekGrl appeared again with a cool, damp cloth and wiped down my legs, arms and face. I swear wouldn’t have been surprised had a group of guys with large feather fans arrived on the scene and while that never happened Jane appeared with some spray on sunscreen since she noticed I was getting a little red.

So, as I said, they sat me down and immediately went to work. Aside from what has already been mentioned my time at Winfield was fairly mysterious. I may have changed shirts, I felt some ice at one point and I know I drank some Coke or possibly Sprite. What was left of my focus was on the clock. I did have the presence of mind to ask for my compression socks in the hope that they would help hold my calf together for the rest of the race and they were immediate produced and pressed into service. I wanted to get out of the Winfield aid station no later than 12 hours and 30 minutes into the race and as I departed with my first pacer Tim it was 11 hours and 58 minutes into the race.

The remaining 50 miles of Leadville was a demonstration in just how valuable a good crew and pacers can be. Tim and I walked and jogged back down the Winfield road toward Hope Pass and we chatted about various things, none of which I remember, but I do remember that he was immediately taking stock of my nutrition and hydration. Having just fueled up a bit in Winfield I was doing ok but he knew I was five pounds down. We began the steep climb up the inbound side of Hope Pass and at first I was passing a couple people here and there but as the incline steepened and the heat started getting to me again my progress slowly ground to a halting creep. As with my earlier climb on the outbound direction I knew this would happen and so having trains of people going by was not surprising nor demoralizing.

This, by the way, is a huge change for me. I often get on the pity-pot and lament how so many “small” people have so much less weight to carry than I. I tell myself if I were to weigh 30, 40, 70 or 100 pounds less I could cruise on uphill too but instead here I am engaged in the Sisyphean task of dragging my big butt up a mountainside. Physics aside this line of thought is really a load of crap. It changes nothing and it does not get me where I need to go one microsecond earlier. I told myself a million times “I need to race MY Leadville 100 not anyone else’s.” I am pretty sure I told Tim this numerous times as well and am amazed he didn’t ditch me in the woods somewhere or just slap me silly on some dark and lonely trail.

In any case, it was on this inbound climb that I could begin to see some of the human wreckage of the day. There were pacers cajoling and consoling their runners along the trail. There was even one pair about a third of the way up the pass where the runner had curled up in a ball on a large flat rock and his pacer was sitting on the other side of the trail staring at him. Tim and I asked if the guy was ok and the pacer just said, yeah, he is just taking a nap. While it isn’t unheard of for a runner to grab a few winks during a 100 mile run it is not a good idea and it is even more unusual to be doing it at such a difficult point in the race, a point that you want to put behind you with all possible speed. Tim and I also continued to see a stream of people still descending Hope. I was wondering how many of these folks would make the cutoffs as they rolled through the night and then I was interrupted by a wave of nausea. I pulled off to the side of the trail and started throwing up. Tim was pretty indifferent and simply waited for me to stop being such a big, pukeing baby and then said, “You should be eating more, here, have a pop tart.” In disbelief I simply replied, “I need to at least wash my mouth out first” to which he said “Ok”, waited a minute and then thrust a piece of pop tart in my face and said without emotion, “here, eat this.”

Tim was very serious about my nutrition; he was possessed by someone’s grandmother and was constantly suggesting that I should eat this or that, drink this or that. At a much later point in the race deep in the night when I tried to scarf down some top ramen and immediately began throwing up again he simply said, “That didn’t work very well. Here, have a pop tart.” I felt I was playing the role of Hansel but since Tim is not blind he could tell whether or not I was fattening up and fatten up I did for when I entered Fish Hatchery I weighed three pounds above my starting weight!

Shortly before Tim finished up his pacing duties at Fish Hatchery he and I stopped at Pipeline where the GeekGrl was waiting and I had my feet re-taped since much had come off and I was developing hot spots on the balls of my feet. However, that was the least of the magic she worked for the GeekGrl had prepared an elixir so potent that even I am not privy to the full recipe. As Tim and I left Pipeline with my secret weapon in hand I regaled him with stories from my time in the Marine Corps and offered up my best effort at a couple Brian Regan bits and he regaled me with, well, with pop tarts and Gatorade.

Ok, I know this is becoming (has been from the second paragraph of the first post) self-indulgent and overly long but I’m having almost as much fun writing the repot as I did doing the race. You can go ahead and throw your virtual tomatoes at me now and I will suffer them with dignity. I will try and wrap this story up tomorrow.

From Start to Windield: Leadville Race Report Part 1

I was consumed by Leadville like no other race and preparing for it revealed to me the dark side of ultra-endurance events. Since March 7th, the day after the GeekGrl and I ran Old Pueblo together, I have lived within the confines of the Leadville Trail 100. What began as an exciting adventure became an insistent demand. In my world there was simply Leadville and non-Leadville thoughts, people and activities. The former were welcome and the later were unhelpful distractions. In the end, however, I was finally able to see more clearly and to attend to my priorities as they should be attended to.

For obvious reasons I was careful to cut almost all fiber from my diet in the week prior to Leadville but for some mysterious reason at 1:30 in the morning just two and a half hours prior to the start of the race, quite inexplicably, I decided to have a large breakfast that was high in fiber and topped off with coffee. I didn’t specifically choose a high fiber breakfast, I was on the hunt for carbs; I just didn’t pay attention to the fiber hiding therein. I coupled my misstep with solids by earnestly following the third commandment of endurance racing “Thou shall start every event well hydrated.” For the first 35 miles of the race I was like a mad prospector searching the high Colorado mountains for a bathroom bonanza and my innards felt like the Hindenburg forever expanding and exploding, oh the humanity!

I had several friends running Leadville and of one it has been said “She never makes a mistake.” I always make mistakes. I have said it before and I’ll say it again; I am the Homer Simpson of the endurance world. I wish I could claim some Steinbeckian “The best laid plans of mice and Men…” situation where the world uncaringly and unconsciously conspires to bring me down but alas my dramas are mostly of the “temporarily distracted by the pink frosted, candy sprinkle coated doughnut” type. Still, my gaff ended up working well with my actual race plan.

I intended to run Leadville nice and conservative for the first 30 to 35 miles in order to negate any possibility that I would go out too fast and die too early. My plan was to run the first 13.5 miles to May Queen at an 11 minute pace but when I finally arrived my average pace was an 11:43. I obviously knew I had missed my goal but I really didn’t know what to think. I looked around to see who all was running near me and suddenly I saw a very experienced ultrarunner I had recently met and asked him, “What do you think of our pace so far?” to which he replied “too fast.” Armed with that new bit of data I departed the May Queen aid station at an easy canter and headed for the first climb of the day, Sugarloaf.

Climbing up the “outbound” side of Sugarloaf is easy. There is a little more than 1,200 feet of elevation gain but you get about 5 miles to do it in and add to that the fact that you are still fresh and the temperatures are still very mild. When you get to the top of Sugarloaf you are rewarded with a huge view of Turquoise Lake. The descent off Sugarloaf is a different story it’s about a 1,400 foot drop in maybe 3 miles, much of which takes place on a deeply rutted jeep road. One of my strengths in trail running is my ability to attack ugly looking descents at unreasonable speeds. I’m confident enough in this strength that I am confident that anyone near me in a race should not stand a chance in keeping up. As I was descending Sugarloaf two guys flew past me. I could see that they were pouring sweat and I could hear their breath shudder with every footfall. It looked like a blast but seriously, at mile 19 of a 100 mile foot race that features a double crossing of a 12,600 foot mountain pass? Not smart. I continued my mellow cruise into the next aid station, Fish Hatchery.

I really don’t remember a great deal from the first 35 miles of the race, the GeekGrl and various friends and acquaintances would appear and disappear as I moved easily through one landmark after the next, Tabor boat ramp, May Queen, Fish Hatchery, Pipeline, Half Moon 2, all the while sticking to an overall 30-hour pace like clockwork. However, once I reach mile 35 two important things changed. First I was freed from the self-imposed 35 miles of holding back and running easy and second I was suddenly aware that I was missing my constant companion from mile one to now, gastric distress. Because mile 35 occurs at the beginning of a descent along the Colorado Trail down to the Twin Lakes aid station and because I was free of constraint I picked up the pace and enjoyed rolling and winding run through the woods passing one person after another.

I was prepared to run triumphal into Twin Lakes swinging like a boxer but when I arrived no one was there. The GeekGrl was at Twin Lakes and was waiting for me but at the moment I came running in she was taking care of her own needs. I looked around, jogged through the aid station and finally left without seeing her. It was a weird feeling not having her there ready and waiting but I understood that with so many people out there and so many different possible things that could prevent her from meeting me I knew it was a real possibility. I headed out to face the climb over Hope Pass figured I’d see her and Tim, my first pacer, once I was on the other side in Winfield.

The climb up Hope pass is something I have done twice before in both directions and I couldn’t be happier that I had included that experience in my training. As a relatively large guy I expend a lot of energy climbing and even though I have gotten pretty good at hiking the steep stuff the cost is not worth the miniscule amount of time that can be won. I climbed slow and steady, painfully slow, as numerous people past me. Each time people approached me from behind I would simply step to the side of the trail, lean on a tree or my knee and take a breather. In addition to the climbing the day was also starting to heat up and heat is another thing that I do not do well.

I made it to the top of Hope Pass feeling much less exuberant than when I had come running into Twin Lakes so I sat down at the Hopeless aid station and drank down about six cups of soda and rested a bit. The Hopeless aid station is run by a bunch of folks who hike up to the Pass a couple days before the race and pack all their supplies in on llamas. It is a unique experience in the world of running to be tended to by caring people in the midst of indifferent llamas.

Despite having given myself permission to run harder after the 35 mile mark I still took it relatively gently down hope pass though I did catch a number of people. Once I hit the bottom I looked at my watch and saw that during the course of the race I had banked enough time to allow myself the luxury of walking the two and a half miles to the Winfield aid station, which was a good thing because the Winfield road is hot and dusty.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Before the Hammer Falls

There are times when you head out for a race knowing that you really didn’t train quite like you probably should have. There are times when you head out for a race feeling over trained and nagged by some minor injury. Then there are times when you know for a fact that you have trained exactly as hard as you could have done while avoiding injury and getting in a solid taper. For me heading into Leadville is of that last sort; I feel like I pushed it to the razors edge and hit my taper moments before some overuse injury kicked in. As to whether or not I am “peaking”, who knows. I wish I had one of those meat thermometers they used to put in turkeys where the little red indicator popped out when the turkey was done but alas, I am a lower tech turkey so I’ll just have to hope all the innards are trained to perfection.

This sense that I have done everything possible to the maximum extent that is reasonable in preparing for Leadville has left me with an amazing sense of calm, equanimity, dare I say serenity. Daily I visualize myself running along the trails of Leadville, summiting Sugar Loaf, summiting Hope Pass, running the shores of Turquoise Lake and it is all so vivid and, somewhat surprisingly, not at all anxiety provoking.

I’ve questioned myself several times “Are you taking this seriously enough? Are you giving the course its due?” and the answer is a definitive yes. I have had to quell many fears by training in the cold, at high altitude, over mountain passes on uncertain footing, through the rain and miles of water and mud, into the darkness and back out again. I have had to face down insecurities about what people may think as I am on this fool’s errand, what if I fail, what other runners will think to see someone like me standing at the starting line dressed to race. I have spent countless hours in training and in pouring over past race reports, working our pace charts, gear lists, nutrition needs, back-up clothing, equipment and plan. I have performed the entire rituals attendant to the cult of ultrarunning.

I fully inhabit the calm before the storm; I am the bullet in the moment before the hammer strike.

It is time to go to work. I will see you at the finish line.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Leadville is staring me in the face and I am staring back

Leadville participants recently got a “the race is approaching” e-mail and in it we were informed that “Hollywood” would be there filming. The e-mail further invited us to send Hollywood our running story. Unlike the NBC stories filmed at Ironman Kona, I have not been shot in the face with a cannon while rescuing a bag of kittens and group of Catholic nuns from a burning building while I was being betrayed by my leprosy riddled body but I do have a story of sorts.

Though I may be, may have been, the fat guy with brittle bones I do belong at Leadville, as a runner. I have people who believe in me, who are giving freely of their time to support me, crew me, pace me and short of being carted off in an ambulance or beaten off the course with a stick I will finish Leadville.

This is my running story. Enjoy Hollywood.

Running was always the punishment in the sports I played growing up. I was primarily a football player, tackle and occasionally on the defensive line, then after completing high school and joining the Marine Corps I played rugby for six years as a tight-head prop.

Though I had always been active as a kid I was also always heavy. By the time I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree I weighed in at 310 pounds and am 6 feet tall. I made a concerted effort to lose weight and by the time I finished grad school I was down to about 270.

For some reason I got it in my mind that I wanted to do a triathlon, just a sprint distance event. The idea of me doing anything else was laughable. I told a co-worker and she laughed and said she couldn't imagine me sprinting after anything. She wasn't trying to be mean but the idea was just so absurd that I think she just blurted it out before thinking.

My major concern in doing a triathlon is that I would have to run and I despised running. However, I wanted to do one badly enough that I was willing to put up with enough training to get me through a 5k.

Soon enough I got caught up in the challenge of seeing how far I could push myself. I knew about Ironman triathlons so that became my first big goal. However, when I started looking at that distance and meeting people who did them I heard about ultra-marathons and found out about one that was in my area and was taking place for the first time; the Ghost Town 38.5.

The thought of running 38.5 miles just seemed crazy but I felt like I had to give it a try. Of course once I started lifting the veil on the world of ultra-running I quickly discovered Western States and Leadville.

Between the two I was far more attracted to Leadville, "The Race Across the Sky", who could resist a challenge like that?

After running my first ultra I was pretty intimidated by the prospect of ever running another though I don't think I let anyone know but after another year of triathlon I found myself drawn back to ultra-running. I began to increase my run mileage and suffered a fractured foot. Once that healed I began again and my hip fractured in two places. My doctor sent me to a specialist who found that I had osteopenia.

I was told it would take a good couple years on medications, extra calcium and vitamin D for my bones to reach normal density so that's what I did; I kept running lower miles and took my meds. I have been doing that for three years now and have increased the difficulty and distance of my running. In the last two years I have also run two other "easy" 100 mile trail runs and failed to finish two others but I have shied away from registering for Leadville because it was just too intimidating. I felt like I wasn't ready, didn't have enough experience, and hadn’t earned the right to be there.

Earlier this year I was talking to a friend about a difficult race he was contemplating. I told him, "You are never truly going to feel ready, you are only going to get older year after year with a lower chance of finishing and it will just be that much more time to expose yourself to an injury that may prevent you from ever doing it. If you want it you just have to put yourself out there and go for it." Then I said, "Oh crap, I just talked myself into Leadville" and I registered that day.

I have run 1,465 miles so far this year with many of those miles having been run in the Sandia, Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico. My weight is down to 195 and I haven't broken a bone in two years.

When I attended the Leadville training camp this year Ken Chlouber said something that has changed my perspective on running in general and on running Leadville in particular. In essence what he said was that regardless of how well we may do on race day we should really consider just how fortunate we are to be able to run this kind of race at all.

This idea has turned my thinking around from "I'm the fat guy with weak bones who will try and conquer Leadville" to, "I'm lucky as hell and I'm not one to squander a gift. I'm actually going to finish Leadville!"

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Absolutely Blistering: A Socorro Chili Harvest Triathlon Race Report

Today was the New Mexico Club State Championship Triathlon in Socorro, NM. It is one of my favorite local races mostly because there are always a lot of people that I know there and it is only about 70 miles from home so I get to sleep in my own bed the night before the race and just drive down in the morning. I really didn’t know what to expect from the day because I haven’t been riding or swimming in, like, months. I did a sprint tri about two months ago and even that was my first swim and bike in a couple months. However, my run training has been incredible so I had that going for me at least.

The Chili Harvest Triathlon starts with a pool swim and people are seeded according to the swim time they estimated when they registered for the race. I don’t have the foggiest notion what I put down for my swim time but whatever it was I was fairly certain it was way too optimistic considering the complete lack of training. I lined up #118 out of about 350 people and was looking around as if that may give me some clue as to whether or not I was going to get swam over by a couple hundred people or not. Not seeing Michael Phelps behind me was a relief but no other useful information was forthcoming. When it was my turn I slipped into the pool and headed out for the 400 meter swim.

Within a couple strokes I found myself thinking “Jeeze, I don’t remember water being so THICK” I felt like my arms were pulling through molasses but my breathing felt fine and my stroke actually felt pretty smooth so I just kept plugging away waiting for people to start passing. It never happened. In fact, I even caught and passed someone with about 100 meters to go. My total time for the swim was 7:39, which is just a little slower than what I would do had I been training diligently. I might have been able to knock as much as 20 seconds off that swim fully trained.

Next up was the bike. The course isn’t exactly difficult but…well, its relative lack of difficulty makes it difficult. It consists of miles of undulating roads and is shaped somewhat like a three toed chicken foot. The roads are generally pretty crappy as well. The thing about the undulating roads is that there is nothing that could be called a climb but there as these frequently reoccurring, energy sucking upward grades followed by a brief downturn and then it’s back up. I probably rode as hard as I could, didn’t have any issues and wound up with a time of 34:30, a 21.5 mph ride. I was looking back at past race results and this is my fastest bike split at this race to date.

Now on to the run, the thing I was really waiting for. I knew I would run well because I have already started tapering for Leadville but I still had a 50 mile week behind me with no rest. Blowing up wasn’t going to be the issue, I was more curious about leg turnover. I knew I could go far but what about fast? I pulled on my racing flats and headed out at an easy jog and just started to accelerate nice and even. I didn’t want to push too hard for fear of doing something stupid like pulling a hamstring 13 days from Leadville so I held some in reserve but within a hundred yards or so I was sailing past people. There was a line of people running on the right and I just stayed to the left and cruised on by.

My total time for the run was 21:27 for an average pace of 6:55 minute miles! That is hands down the fastest triathlon split I have ever run regardless of whether the run came at the beginning of the race or the end. It is also only 44 seconds off my 5K PR, which was run at sea level in Boston on a flatter course in the cool of the morning. Needless to say I am happy with the run. So happy in fact that I headed out for two more laps so I got in 9.3 miles. It was pretty funny because while I was running my second and third laps people were still yelling out “Good Job, you can do it!” and I was still running sub-8 minute miles and feeling really relaxed. The down side, which didn't cross my mind untill it was too late, was the seven blisters I developed on my toes due to running 9.3 miles in sock-like racing flats without socks. Oops.

Probably about a mile and a quarter into my third lap I finally caught up with the GeekGrl and ran the last bit with her, which is always a treat. Even as early as she is in her Javelina training she is already running better and commented to me on the way home that there was something about her running now that felt different, smoother. That, my dear, is efficiency.

So, all in all it was a good day. Unbelievably I PR’d the course by over 2 minutes. That does not bode well for my triathlon training. Hell, if I can just log big miles running and still come out and race well, why burn money with extra wear and tear on my bike? Why pay the gym membership for a swimming pool? Ok, well, I can’t really imagine not having a gym membership and probably should be swimming on my recovery days, but still, I could get by.

Oh, I almost forgot, The Outlaws won the Club State Championship! again...I think this is our 5th year in a row...does that make us a Tri-team Dynasty yet?

Next up…Leadville!