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Injured, cranky, and racing: the last 2 months and my first 100k

Last I left you I was fresh off a high from my finish at the Leadville 100.  I had no real plan, as that 100-miler was my final race planned for my busy running season.   But, my expectation was to be back to some easy, purely recreational running a week, maybe two, after Leadville.  Much of the muscular soreness was gone in the first few days after the race and mentally I was ready to go after about a week of rest.  My achilles, however, didn’t agree and it took me over a month of being an icing, doctor-visiting, anti-inflamation-cream-rubbing, cry baby before I could get back to any regular running.  Even walking was tough.

My grandmother, Elsie Levy, riding bitch on a hog.  She's 96.  This has almost nothing to do with ultrarunning.

My grandmother, Elsie Levy, riding bitch on a hog. She’s 96. This has almost nothing to do with ultrarunning.

What ultimately made the difference, besides resting and complaining?  Cutting the back out of my trail shoe so it wouldn’t rub the crazy-swollen tendon.  After a couple weeks of daily running I had my head wrapped back around the idea of squeezing in just one last race before the cold weather hit.  Any trace of running speed I may have once had was completely gone from months of long, slow running so anything short was out.

I considered backing up my barely-finished 100-miler with another 100-miler or a 24-hour race at the 24 Hours of Boulder running festival but (prudently?) opted for the junior race, a 100k (62 miles).  I’ve never run 100k in a stand-alone event; in fact, it would be the 3rd longest run I’ve done and all 3 have been in the last 12 months.   The many concurrent races at the 24 Hours of Boulder included a 50k, 100k, 100mi, 6-hour, and 24-hour, a few of which also offered relay or team versions.  The whole thing is kind of odd, even by endurance race standards.  The course is a 6.6 mile trail-and-road, out-and-back that hugs the Boulder Reservoir.  For the 100k, that meant a 2.8 mile partial lap followed by 9 full laps.  There were people constantly around but not enough that it ever felt crowded.  The 9am start was 2-5 hours later than most of my races over the last couple of years so that felt strange.  Alison and the kids were able to join me at the start – the first time the whole family has been there at the beginning of a race.  The whole atmosphere was relaxed, my expectations were pretty much nonexistent, I was just going to go at whatever pace felt right until I made it to the end.

A picture of my ever-beautiful wife, circa 1922?

A picture of my ever-beautiful wife, circa 1922?

In the days leading up to the race I made a commitment, to myself and the family, not to stress about any aspect of the run.  I’m happy to say I succeeded, drinking freely, staying up too late, not really resting up at all.  It showed once the running started.  The combo of being detrained from my Leadville taper, race, injury, and time off, plus the possible overtraining in the two weeks before the 100k had me flat all day.  My sometimes 9-minute/mile pace early on faded to 14-15 minute pace in the later hours of the race but I moved steadily throughout, walking for a minute or two every couple miles to let my knees recover (they hurt pretty much all day).

Hurting a little, smiling for no good reason, already a little bored just a few hours into my all day 100k.

Hurting a little, smiling for no good reason, already a little bored just a few hours into my all day 100k.  Photo credit: Karen Kantor


It was weird to be so committed to finishing while not really caring about the event or my performance.  And, when I crossed the line 14 hours and 48 minutes after I started, I wasn’t really that tired.  With a field of only 11 runners in the solo 100k event, I was dead last of the 8 finishers.  In a great twist of irony, due to the small field I “won” my first ever tangible race award, a 2nd Place medal for my age group. Interestingly and very cool, the 5 women who started the race not only all finished, they took overall spots 1-5.

Ultimately, I think the event was (for me) kinda dumb.  I just wanted to do something difficult again so I did.  But there wasn’t really any great love for the endeavor, no huge emotional swings, no real satisfaction.  I was happy enough to be done but, mostly, it was a big blah.  I mean, I know I can cover the distance, even if I have to walk all day long.  I know I can possibly even be competitive if I train for this sort of event.  And I know that it should feel like a big accomplishment.  But, running a boring course over and over again, almost entirely solo, when my body and mind aren’t into it, is just a big nothing.  Maybe a good workout, I guess, and another long ultra to give me that much more confidence next time I have a long day ahead but that’s about it.

It seems ridiculous to just get up, drive 5 minutes, run literally all day long, and come home and shower and go to bed.  I’m not sure if I’ll do a similar event again but, strangely enough, I might.  I still like the pushing myself aspect, even if I’m not pushing hard.  And, especially with friends and maybe as part of a relay, this kind of event still has some appeal.  The best part, perhaps, is that I didn’t really even need to take a day off after the race.  This afternoon I was able to hike-run Sanitas, a Boulder locals’ favorite that is technical and steep.  I guess that’s the upside of not racing hard.

There were some flurries at the Sanitas summit today.  Winter is coming, for real.  I’m thinking some snowshoe racing might be a nice change of pace.

Thanks for reading!





2013 Leadville 100: The Big One

I’d been hesitant to blog in the weeks leading up to my shot at running the Leadville 100.  My training this year has been solid and I was reasonably happy with my lead-up races since May.  But, there were jitters and creeping uncertainties, including concerns from a fairly big fall down the rocky descent of Mt. Sanitas two weeks before my biggest race of the year.  Cut, bruised, and hobbling was not the ideal physical state leading into my taper and I had some real worries that the injuries would factor heavily in my chances to cover the 100-mile mountain course in Leadville.

Luckily, my body healed up reasonably well but my head was all sorts of a mess.  Not only was the Leadville 100 my biggest event of the year, it was one I had mentally penciled in years before as something of a pinnacle of ultra running.  Alison and the kids were coming along, the first time for any of them to see me race in Colorado.  My Austin buddy, Andres Capra, was using his once-a-year vacation block to come pace me at his own expense.  My other pacer, Matt Wiencek, was again selflessly stepping up to be at my side to face whatever might come in 100-miler.  Many assorted friends from across the Front Range and beyond would be out there, including virtually the entire Rocky Mountain Runners crew.  Almost everyone in my life knew I was doing this race and it is one of the few ultras that even non-runners might have heard of.  So, the pressure was on.

Me (L), Alberto (M), and Ryan (R) looking more confident than we were feeling pre-race.

Me (L), Alberto Rossi (M), and Ryan Lassen (R) looking more confident than we were feeling pre-race.

After my first 100-miler finish last year at the Cactus Rose 100, I knew I had one primary issue to address: how could I run more and hike less to cover 100 miles faster on my second attempt at the distance?  10 months and a couple thousand miles of trail running later, I still don’t have the answer.  What I do have, however, is a coveted finish on the iconic Leadville 100 course.  It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty but I got it done in in 28 hours, 21 minutes, and 55 seconds.  943 runners started, only 494 finished within the 30-hour time limit, with over a quarter of all finishers doing so in the final hour of the race.  I ran-stumbled across the line in 287th place.  Now, for the 28+ hours leading up to that point…

Lots can and often does go wrong in a 100-mile race.  Weather is unpredictable.  Gear can be unreliable or get lost, broken, or forgotten.  Blisters, stomach cramps, vomiting, dehydration, over-hydration, headaches, falls, hypothermia, hyperthermia, sunburn, windburn, chaffing, cuts, toenail damage, breathing problems, blurred vision, sprains, incoherence, hallucinations, bugs bites and stings, and crippling fatigue are some of the better known maladies but the full list is quite a bit longer and the affects often more extreme at a race like Leadville.  Amazingly, I didn’t have a single one of these issues.  That, however, doesn’t mean that the day lacked adversity.

The allure of Leadville is that the course throws a little of everything at the runners.  Obviously, even for a well trained runner, 100 miles is a big chunk to knock off in one go.  Many friends have asked me when runners stop to sleep.  Answer: very few runners stop for much of anything and almost none stop to sleep, me included.  The lowest elevation of the course is over 9,200′; most of the course is over 10,000′ and there are multiple points over 12,000′.  That means very little oxygen, which is kind of a problem for people who need to breathe.

A rough course profile but it gives an idea of what runners contend with at the Leadville 100. Credit:

Starting line temps are in the 30s, daytime temps can jump to near 80 degrees which, due to the thin atmosphere of the high mountains, feels much warmer.  Once the sun sets, temps again drop to near freezing.  There are at least five significant mountain climbs and descents, most prominent among them being the climb up and over Hope Pass that then descends to the turnaround point, where the runners are sent right back up the same mountain for a total of nearly 12,000′ of combined climbing and descending in just a 20-mile section of the course between miles 40-60 of the race.  In total, there is roughly 30,000′ of elevation change over the 100 miles, more than twice what I faced in my first 100-miler at Cactus Rose.  Twice runners cross a river with the aid of a rope to keep from being swept away.  The terrain varies from dirt and even stretches of paved roads to single- and double-track mountain trails, to rocky switchbacks and grassy fields.  Oh, and the actual distance is said to be about 102 miles, not 100 miles.

With about 1000 runners starting the race and the out-and-back format, there are many miles of tight passes, including steep uphills and downhills, where weary racers jockey for position and pace, often nearly missing collisions of bodies and packs and trekking poles.  And, unfortunately, there are many actually collisions, which can rattle the body and mind when trying to move quickly and navigate narrow trails that often has steep drop offs.

Alpacas are used to transport aid station provisions near the top of Hope Pass.  An odd and much anticipated sight, though the uniqueness of the experience is somewhat lost on the 1000 or so hypoxic racers.  Photo: Andres Capra

Alpacas are used to transport aid station provisions near the top of Hope Pass. An odd and much anticipated sight, though the uniqueness of the experience is somewhat lost on the 1000 or so hypoxic racers. Photo: Andres Capra

It is a long, long race for everyone.  Only 12 runners finished under 20 hours; many runners – men and women – who routinely win races around the country took much longer and many hundreds of very fit, very experienced runners didn’t finish at all.  So, it’s hard to give even a brief section-by-section overview of my experience and I’m not going to try.  The broader experience was something like this: I ran easily for most of the first 40 miles, then my knees started aching to the point where I could run no faster than I could hike.  So, I hiked.  For the majority of the last 60+ miles.

Coming up Hope Pass inbound, around mile 55.  Happy because climbing was the only thing that didn't hurt.  And I was probably a little low on O2. Photo: Andres Capra

Coming up Hope Pass inbound, around mile 55. Happy because climbing was the only thing that didn’t hurt. And I was probably a little low on O2. Photo: Andres Capra

Since my knees screamed on the downhills, where I normally move quite well, I would have to step aside to let entire groups of runners pass.  In what felt like bizarro world, I was able to pass dozens of racers up every hill, as my energy was strong almost the entire race and hiking even fast uphill didn’t hurt.  Up both sides of Hope Pass, up the climb out of Twin Lakes, up the grueling miles-long Powerline climb in the middle of the night starting at mile 77, all day and all night I was able to cruise uphill.  It was really weird but great to essentially maintain pace on what are generally considered the toughest stretches of the course.  Unfortunately, the pace I was maintaining was far slower than I’d have liked.

A step back to the turnaround at mile 50.  That’s where I picked up Andres, who paced me back up and over Hope Pass down into mile 60 at Twin Lakes.  It was a huge morale boost to have him with me and really meaningful to be back on Hope Pass together four years after we teamed up for the 2009 TransRockies Run (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).  Andres tried mightily to get me to move a bit faster on the downhills and flats but, sadly, my knees just wouldn’t cooperated.

Twin Lakes aid station, roughly 60 miles in.  As happy as I was to see my family, the smile is at least in part due to the 45 seconds in the seated position.

Twin Lakes aid station, roughly 60 miles in. As happy as I was to see my family, the smile is at least in part due to the 45 seconds in the seated position.

It was really nice to see so many friends all day on the course racing and pacing and crewing.  But, it was only at mile 60 where I got to briefly reunite with Alison, Sagan, and Story, who were all wonderfully sweet and supportive.  It would be another 12 hours until I’d see them at the finish.

Story ran right up to me and I couldn't not pick her up.  Plus, it would have been bad form to poke her away with the trekking poles.  Photo: Alison Randall

Story ran right up to me and I couldn’t not pick her up. Plus, it would have been bad form to poke her away with the trekking poles. Photo: Alison Randall

Matt picked me up for his 26-mile pacing shift.  Matt is, unquestionably, as solid a guy as I’ve ever met.  In the many (8?) hours it took me to cover just a marathon distance he didn’t once complain or show a hint of impatience or frustration, which would have been completely understandable.  As expected, he kept me fed and focused, part Sherpa, part therapist, as I trudged through some of the darkest, loneliest miles of the course. Through my nearly constant grunting (my Achilles swelled to the size of an apple), Matt moved me forward and got me to the final aid station in good spirits.

Matt and Andres readying for a handoff.  These guys saved my day.  Photo: Alison Randall

Matt and Andres readying for a handoff. These guys saved my day. Photo: Alison Randall

Andres was rearing to go at mile 87, eager to push me hard to the finish line.  His enthusiasm was great, even if somewhat wasted on me.  I made it clear that there would be no more running, a guarantee I broke a handful of times in those final 4 hours but mostly it was a power hike to the finish.  With only about an hour to the end my mood, which had been genuinely good all race, went south.  I guess that’s ok, as it was my only really low point of the entire race and it didn’t keep me from moving.  Another sunrise – my second since starting the race – came and with it I knew I was going to finish.  My primary time goal of sub-25 hours was out of reach by halfway, my secondary goal of sub-27 hours slipped away a few hours prior, but I was beyond pleased to know that I was, indeed, going to finish.

Less than 100 yards to the finish, wanting to pick up Sagan and hug Matt and Andres but certain those would be bad decisions.

Less than 100 yards to the finish, wanting to pick up Sagan and hug Matt and Andres but certain those would be bad decisions. Photo: Silke Koester

The very final mile to the finish line is an entirely uphill road into the heart of Leadville.  With nothing left to lose, I committed to running it with Andres.  My stride was so short that the heal of my front foot would barely extend beyond the toe of my rear foot but, goddammit, I was running!  As I approached the line, Alison and Story were there to cheer and Matt and Sagan joined Andres and me in the final steps – a moment that will be part of me forever.

Yeah, a smile.  Photo: Silke Koester

Yeah, legit happy. Photo: Silke Koester

I expected I’d cry but the fatigue and satisfaction manifested only in smiles.  With the help of Andres and Matt, the love of my family, and support of friends near and far, I finished the Leadville 100 run.  Now I could sit down.

Oooh, a thingy I can wear!  Photo: Silke Koester

Said in the head of baby Story: “Oooh, a thingy I can wear!”  Appearance by a fully reclined me in the background.  Photo: Silke Koester

I had been trying to get updates on my racing friends all day and night.  When only half of starters even finish the race, it is hard to know what to expect when so many friends are out there.  I had spent the previous couple of days with fellow racer friends Alberto Rossi and Ryan Lassen, along with our crews and pacers.  Our mutual friends, Mike Oliva and Greg Salvesen, were on the course.  Harry Hamilton, who I befriended and paced last year, was back to better his time.  I had heard that a couple of the guys were possibly going to drop at different points and, having witnessed their level of difficulty earlier in the race, it looked like some consolation was going to be in order for those whose races didn’t pan out.  But, remarkably, every one of my friends finished!  Alberto finished 75th overall in 23:44, an impressive result for any runner but stunning for a guy running his first 100-miler.  Harry improved by nearly an hour over his 2012 run, finishing in 24:17.  Mike Oliva, who was curled up in a ball on the ground repeatedly throughout the race, somehow pieced together a bunch of 6-minute miles in the second half of the race, going from a seemingly certain DNF to a sub-25 hour finish.  Ryan suffered mightily but came through just 7 minutes ahead of me, Greg recovered enough from his difficulties to cross in 29:11.

There are so many friends and family members who supported me both in Leadville and elsewhere.  The biggest thanks to Alison and the kids for their support and sacrifices for this lengthy race build-up, which included 7 out-of-town ultras in just the last 14 weeks and to my pacers, Matt and Andres, for literally being by my side to see me through the journey.  As always, love to my parents, siblings, and curiously confused family spread across the country.  The Rocky Mountain Runners have been invaluable for both training and emotional support this year, including (but not limited to!) Alberto Rossi, Ryan Lassen, Mike Oliva, Ryan Smith, Silke Koester, Cassie Scallon, Mike Grady, Leila Degrave, Kerrie Bruxvoort, and Neeraj Engineer.  To my other CO running buddies, Sherpa John Lacroix, Marty  Kibiloski, Brett Astor, Mike Sandrock, Anders Mavis, Dave Smitty Smith, Peter Hegelbach, Greg Nash, Eric Lee, and Basit Mustafa, thanks.  To my veteran ultra badass and role model, Olga King, you’ll always be the first, best ultra runner in my life.  And to my longtime friend and burgeoning runner, Josh Wallach, it has been awesome to have a fan.

A long day done, with my boys.

A long day done, with my boys.  Photo: Silke Koester

2013 Silver Rush 50 – race report

For stretches over the last few years, I’ve been a runner in the Rocky Mountains.  This past weekend, I really got to feel what it’s like to be a Rocky Mountain Runner.  I won’t again go into the remarkable accomplishments of my front range friends but I sure was happy to be in their company for another weekend in the high country.  This time around, we were out in Leadville for the Silver Rush 50-miler, a mostly jeep road, out-and-back route just east of town.

I crashed the night before at the Leadville Hostel, which had a quaint homeyness about it, though the all-night chain-saw snoring bunkmate made the experience less than ideal.  Up at 3:40am for my 3rd huge meal in the last 10 hours, I was out the door hanging with my runner buddies well before the 6am start.

There is a great post about the race on the Rocky Mountain Runners website with plenty of photos (I’m the emaciated-looking one, which is saying a lot in a group of ultra-runners).  It’s worth a quick look if you want to see who’s who and how the course looked, at least through the lens of our ever-growing support crew.  I didn’t know until I was out running that so many friends would be there just to spectate but it was a super spirit lifter to see Ryan Smith, Silke Koester, Cassie Scallon, and Kerrie and John Bruxvoort multiple times out on the course, cheering like I was a front-runner (I wasn’t), as well as the RMRers that were out there racing: Ryan Lassen, Matt Wiencek, Neeraj Engineer, and Leila DeGrave.

There’s a good bit of climbing but with my slowly adapting mountain legs, most was runnable:

It didn't feel quite as steep as this looks but it was almost entirely up or down, with my watch recording only 9 minutes of flat time in the entire day.

It didn’t feel quite as steep as this looks but it was almost entirely up or down, with my watch recording only 9 minutes of flat time in the entire day.

I didn’t feel great most of the day, partly due to an unsettled stomach, partly due to jitters about my final long run before the LT100, partly due to cumulative fatigue from so much long racing and training over the last few months (15 long runs in 10 weeks).  So, I went in without tapering, knowing running on tired legs for 50 mountain miles would be good training.  And when the hurt started early on, I kind of expected it and just settled into quiet suffering mode. My brother and sister-in-law did a great job of capturing my essence in the photo comparison below.

More than a passing resemblance?

Thing is, I did just fine, I think.  I never felt great but never felt like finishing was in question.  I was able to run all the flats and downs and the majority of the ups.  Leaving the aid station at halfway, where Sherpa John was unexpectedly there to provide precision crewing services (he’s racing the VT 100 this weekend), I was at 4:47.  John asked if I was shooting for sub-10 hours, and I said I didn’t really know anymore.  Going into the race my best guess was 10:45 but I’d be happy with anything under 11 hours, all considered.  But, his question stuck in my brain and gave me something to shoot for for the next handful of hours.  So I got to it.

Forcing a smile on the climb out of the aid station at halfway.  Credit: Ryan Smith

Forcing a smile on the climb out of the aid station at halfway. Credit: Ryan Smith

The entire return to the finish, I knew it would be close.  It meant no walking on the shallower climbs.  It meant getting in and out of the remaining aid stations in 1-2 minutes each, tops.  And, for the final 5-6 miles of the race, it meant not even stopping to pee since it looked like I might miss 10 hours by just 30-60 seconds.  But, with the finish in sight down the final short, steep decent, I gave what I had left and crossed the line in 9:57:24, 121st place out of 403 finishers (449 starters). SR50 Finisher Certificate

Finisher's medal: bottle-opener on the back since, ya know, it is Colorado.

Finisher’s medal: bottle-opener on the back since, ya know, it is Colorado.

It is sometimes hard for me to keep perspective, spending time day after day with some of the top ultra-runners in the country, along with a whole lot of others who are merely very, very good.  Our friend Leila, just two weeks after placing 9th at the Western States 100 (the most competitive 100-miler in the U.S.), not only won the Silver Rush 50 (13 minutes ahead of 2nd place) but broke the course record in the process.  She was 15th overall, with our male friends finishing in 23rd, 30th, and 50th places.  Again this is out of 449 dedicated, experienced, long-distance trail runners.  The fastest guys and some of the equally talented girls in our friendly group didn’t run this one so we’d likely have had a few more spots in the top 20, conceivably taking up a the entire women’s podium and a spot or two on the men’s side.

I was well back in 121st place, getting just as much praise from this unique group.  It is sweet and humbling and encouraging but as much as I love to run with them and would love to run like them, it isn’t going to happen.  Not ever, no matter how many 100-mile training weeks I put in, no matter how dialed in I get my sleep and recovery and diet.  No matter how much I WANT to be up at the front, it isn’t going to happen, at least not in the highly competitive Colorado trail racing scene.  But, I’m getting better.  Being able to run 50 tough miles on tired legs in the thin air of the high mountains in less than 10 hours is something I couldn’t do before.  Now, I’m able to do it, feel good enough to hang out afterwards, and be back to running two days later.  I have the confidence and fitness to go out and run a marathon – or perhaps a 50k or even a 50-miler – any day of the week.  I have not only run endurance but all-around fitness and good health that makes like more satisfying, even a little bit easier.  And I do, for the time being, have visible ab muscles, which I think is cool even if Alison doesn’t care.  Most importantly, I’ve found myself drawn into a community of like-minded friends, despite our quite diverse backgrounds, goals, and levels of talent.

Big picture, this is exactly what I’ve wanted out of life for quite a long time.  I fully realize how fortunate I am to have found a place and lifestyle and people to help me be me.  Every day presents another opportunity for adventure, improvement, and camaraderie.  With the love, support, and very different interests of Alison, Sagan, Story, and other friends and family, runners and non-runners alike, I’ve found balance.  To all of you, a huge thanks now, and more thanks to come.  I’ll need all the support I can get: the Leadville 100 is just 32 days away.

2013 Leadville Marathon – race report

Official race photos

In my May-July build-up for the Leadville 100 I’ve chosen 6 long races – 5 genuine ultras and the ultra-like Leadville Marathon – to test my fitness and mind (and to have some fun).  That’s a heavy race schedule for me and there’s no time for resting in between races, as that’s when the “real” training happens.  I’ve made peace with the reality that my performance won’t be top notch for any of the races since I’m not really tapering for any of them and often running long (2-5 hours) on the non-race days, too.

She gets her fanciness from me.

She gets her fanciness from me.

Even so, I’m taking each race seriouslyish, trying to get good food in me every day and enough sleep to recover between runs.  The goal for each of these races is steady forward movement, running as much as I can with focused hiking when I can’t, while limiting wasted time at aid stations and finishing with a hard effort the last couple of miles.  These “training races” have been great for testing out gear (Hokas great for dirt roads, Salomon SpeedCross 3s better for the sloppier, more technical stuff), nutrition (gels as often as I can down them, real food at aid stations), and hydration (single hand bottle sufficient for up to 2-hour segments if it isn’t super hot).

Trying to find out if my BMI can be 0.

Trying to find out if my BMI can be 0. Here’s where I was yesterday morning.

My results have been very average over the 5 completed races.  But, they’ve been great tests of mind and body, with long efforts in big fields almost every week.  A flat (for CO) 50k (Greenland), a rugged 50mi (Quad Rock), a steep 50k (Dirty 30), a wooded, hot, night-time 60k (Capt’n Karl’s at Pedernales Falls, TX), and now what has to be one of the toughest 26.2 races in the U.S., the Leadville Marathon.  The marathon plays out much like an ultra, both in terrain and finishing times.  Out of a field of 517 starters with many accomplished runners in the mix, only 3 broke 4 hours.  That says a lot.  I was pleased to go 5:10, good for 71st overall.

But that’s just part of the story.  You see, trail running, even the racing, is just part of the mountain lifestyle.  The people involved and the situations we get ourselves into all contribute to the experience, which is often ridiculous.  The plan for Leadville this past weekend was to meet running buddy Mike Oliva at the Denver airport, where he was picking up another friend, Maria, who was flying in from Wyoming for the Leadville “Heavy Half” Marathon (a 15.5 mile race that shares some of the marathon course, with the same start, high point, and finish line).  We’d take off from the airport mid-afternoon, make the easy drive to Leadville, and have the evening to relax before a solid night of sleep, waking up 10 minutes from the race start.  Simple plan.  So, it was a bit of hiccup when, 10 miles west of Golden, in the left-lane of highway 70, Mike’s car lost all power.

Fun on the highway at 0MPH.

Fun on the highway at 0MPH.

Nearly two hours of waiting on a tow-truck, hanging out in the grass median, with cars whizzing by at 80MPH 20 feet away, with about 17 trillion angry ants crawling over our flip-flopped feet, unfed, and unclear of what might happen next, we were a bit off schedule.  Ultimately, Mike was able to get the car started again and we drove on back to Denver, grabbed some dinner and drinks, then headed back to DIA to rent a car for the trip.  That didn’t go too well, as we hit stop and go traffic at 10pm heading to the airport, finally getting a car and back to Mike’s place to crash out around midnight.  Maybe 4 hours of broken sleep later, our sorry ass trio dragged ourselves into the rental and made it to Leadville around 7:25am for the 8am start.  All part of the fun.

Cool thing is, we all did well in our races and had a good weekend.  Maria was 3rd female overall in the Heavy Half, an especially impressive feat considering she had no time to acclimatize to the altitude (we ran up to 13,200′) and was coming off relatively little run training.  Mike Oliva was disappointed not to win the marathon, coming in 4th overall (70 MINUTES ahead of me, yikes!).  He’s just a stud – to be just 40 seconds off the podium in a big, competitive race was remarkable after the physical and mental rigors of the previous 16 hours.

There was some plate envy going on.

There was some plate envy going on. (Not pictured: me, without a plate.)

My race was uninspired but solid, no major suffering, steady effort all morning, finishing with a 6:40ish mile 26.  Another good day in the mountains, another step towards being prepared for the 100 on August 17-18.

It has been a huge couple of weeks for my running peeps.  A quick rundown of an incomplete list of awesome friends:

NorthFork 50k – John LaCroix 14th overall

Northfork 50mi – Alberto Rossi 3rd overall

Leadville Marathon – Mike Oliva 4th overall

Leadville Heavy Half – David Roche 1st overall (CR), Maria 3rd female

Mohican 50mi – Ryan Lassen 5th overall

San Juan Solistice 50mi – Silke Koester 2nd female, Ryan Smith 7th overall

TARC 100mi – Greg Salvesen 7th overall

Mt. Evans Ascent 14mi uphill – Matt Wiencek kicked ass, getting “the rock” award for sub-2:40

San Diego 100 – Olga King 4th female



Capt’n Karl’s 60k Night-time Trail Race at Pedernales Falls

Another whirlwind weekend of family, friends, travel, and trails.  I arrived in Austin late Friday night, crashed hard, and was up for a Saturday afternoon of baking under the Texas sun on a pontoon boat on Lake Travis with Alison, the kids, and some sorely missed Texas friends.  Much of the day was spent driving, to the lake, from the lake, and then, around 5pm, out to Pedernales Falls for the first in the 2013 Capt’n Karls Night-Time Trail Running Series.  The series offers 10k, 30k, and 60k distances at each of 4 central Texas trail systems.

Goofball kid of mine.

Pool shark: Goofball kid of mine.

Without much of a plan and really just looking to get in a long run when I had the chance, I opted for the 60k race, both for the distance and the chance to run with Austin friend/training parter/badass Andres Capra.  I went light shoes, skimpy shorts, one hand bottle, and headlamp – about as minimalist as was responsible given an almost 40-mile run in the woods at night in the heat on trails I’d never seen.

Sloppy fat Nazi-hat wearing loser in on flight to Austin.  Must make his momma proud.

Sloppy fat Nazi-hat wearing loser in on flight to Austin. Must make his momma proud.

I told myself from the start that I’d go easy most of the race and push harder with 10-15 miles left if I was feeling good.  But, with the rare chance to run with Andres, I went out harder than I should have and was still falling back from his pace for at least the first 5-6 miles.  No red-lining but it was definitely more effort than I thought was prudent given another 6 hours of running ahead.  Thing is, I didn’t feel the need to back off and, much to my own surprise, just kept running.  I ran the hills, which seemed short and shallow compared to the mountain training of the last year.  That’s something new to me – running uphill without getting winded – and the further I ran the better I felt.

Story, fresh from the oven, circa January 28, 2012.

Story, fresh from the oven, circa January 28, 2012.

I made a ridiculous mistake at the halfway point (it was a two-loop course), where I doubled back from the aid station the wrong direction.  It was a bit stressful, something of a morale buster, but I only lost about 10 minutes and was physically feeling just fine.  I caught back up with a couple of guys I had previously been ahead of at halfway, including Andres, and just kept cruising.  From about mile 21 until the end I think I only passed one more person; other than that guy I was solo out there for the final 16 miles.  Understandably, late into a longish race, well after midnight when you’ve been running alone for some hours, things get tough.  Not the case this time.  I was proud to finish strong, not letting myself hike, all the way to the end.

Story, as a wrap up this blog post, very happy to twirl and giggle.

Story, right now as I wrap up this blog post, very happy to twirl and giggle.

My finishing time of 6:52:14 was decent, with a 13th place overall of 105 starters (oddly only 64% of the starters finished the race).  But, considering this was my 9th long day of running – at least 3 hours – in the last 16, I’m really happy I felt so strong.  My mid-race error cost me a couple finishing places, which sorta sucks, but this is Leadville training and it shows me that I’m on track.  After 38 miles my legs felt fine and, more importantly, I was almost wishing the race was a little longer.  Some emaciated photos of me (and some random chick?) from the race.

It’s now 5 days post race, with the Leadville Marathon coming up fast this weekend.  Though 12 miles shorter and likely with cool weather and non-technical trail, there will be some challenges:

A lotta ups and downs, all at over 10,000'.

A lotta ups and downs, all at over 10,000′.

I’ll be heading out to Leadville this weekend with Mike Oliva, who has a reasonably good shot at winning the race.  This sort of race is just another training day out for Mike O, whose talent and work ethic are rivaled only by his kindness.  If I finish within 75 minutes of him, it’ll be a good day for me.  Starting late July Mike O. will be doing a 10-day run along the Colorado Trail, a 280-mile stretch through the rugged high mountains in western Colorado.  If all goes to plan, I’ll be joining him for a couple of days before resting up for the Leadville 100.  Mike Oliva is running that one, too, and if all goes well for both of us he’ll be only 8-10 hours ahead of me at the finish.  🙂

Father’s Day Weekend 2013

What an incredible weekend, again, full of adventure and challenge and beauty and melancholy. I got just what I most want out of life – hours and hours of moving through and over mountains.  But, it was without the people who make Father’s Day so special: my dad and my kids (with a big nod to Alison for making both the weekend and kids possible).  Knowing that my pursuits bring meaning to my dad made a big difference, as did the knowledge that my kids were in the middle of a multi-week party that included friends and family and, more importantly, Six Flags and Sea World.

Snuggle buddies. I made these two (with a little help from Alison).

Snuggle buddies. I made these two (with a little help from Alison).

So, with only myself to worry about, I set out Friday for a warm, hilly Boulder run, hitting my go-to semi-longish route that included the iconic local peaks of Flagstaff and Green mountains.  Saturday I was planning on joining a big group run but overslept my alarm by 150 minutes.  Bummer.  But, it gave me a change to get out to the relatively high country just west of Boulder for a solo, solid, steady 20-miler at 8-9k’ along the Switzerland Trail and some backcountry dirt roads.  This was nice, listening to episodes of the Radiolab podcast, actually running the whole route (only about 1800′ climbing but still something), pushing the pace the last few miles.

One of two similar creatures currently walking around in our very small, fully fenced back yard.

One of two similar creatures currently walking around in our very small, fully fenced back yard.

Post-run Saturday I showered, ate, geared back up, and drove the couple hours out to Guanella Pass just up the mountain from Georgetown.  There I met Matt Wiencek, who had earlier in the day run an impressive 2:36 at the 14-mile-all-uphill Mt. Evans Ascent race.  Beers and peanut butter and we crashed out early, him in his shiny new first-ever tent, me in the back of the Toyota Sienna (where I spent 3 nights out of the last 9).  I think this was the first time I’ve slept at 11k’ and I had a bit of trouble with it but after some morning peanut butter and strawberries and a can of Starbucks, I was ready to hit the trails with Matt, whose write-up of the weekend has much better pics.

We started with Mt. Bierstadt (14,065′), my 2nd ever 14er, both of which were in the last week.  I felt really good heading up, running stretches, power hiking, and rock-hopping the rest.  The climb is about 2500′ over 3.5 miles but almost all of it is really over the last 2 miles to the summit.  That’s steep stuff, with a bit of light scrambling and a decent stretch of rocky terrain to navigate about 13k’.  Since the summit is clearly visible from the trailhead and the total round-trip distance is only 7 miles, Mt Bierstadt has quite a bit of hiker traffic. The morning conditions were great and there must have been 200 people on the trail but, other than Matt and me, only 2 others seemed to attempt running any part of it.

So happy to reach the summit that I, uh, want to do a split?

So happy to reach the summit that I, uh, want to do a split?

Mt. Bierstadt summit, 14,065'.  Rocky steep fun.

Mt. Bierstadt summit selfie at 14,065′. Rocky steep fun.

After summiting I was eager to test my downhill legs and pushed all the way back to the trailhead.  The roundtrip, even with stops for pictures, took just 2:20 and only cost me a little skin off my thigh due to my GREATEST EVER FALL, really more of a slide.  I lost my footing on a slick, steep spot, slid, rolled 360 degrees, popped back on my feet, and kept running without breaking stride.  It may be the coolest thing I’ve ever done and I doubt I’ll top it for stuntman-like choreography.  Back at the van, Matt and I regrouped (yeah, peanut butter), then headed out the other direction for another few miles of rolling trail at high altitude.

Big horn sheep scampering down a hill so steep that the trees falls down.

Big horn sheep scampering down a hill so steep that the trees falls down.

All this running gives me lots of time to think.  That’s mostly good.  The thin air and fatigue and endorphins and dehydration and exhilaration really help me focus and reflect.  All the more so with the backdrop of Father’s Day.  I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a dad who has encouraged me to find my own way, even when the process is scary for him.  I can now, with the benefit of hindsight and my own fatherhood, clearly imagine how he must have felt when, as still pretty much a kid, I set off solo for the uncertainty and adventure of Alaska and Central America.  Or on multi-month road trips criss-crossing North America.  Or even in untraditional, stressful, sometimes questionable business pursuits.  But, he has always been able to remain supportive and strong, not only allowing but cheering me on to take my shots even when – especially when – my aspirations and approach are so contrary to his own.  For that, I will always owe him, big-time, for him letting me be me.  Now, if only I can do half as good a job with my own kids…

Leadville, USA: 3 days of doing it (running)

The last few days have been a whirlwind, a full-on immersion Colorado experience bordering on the existential.  I know I won’t be able to capture it in words or even pictures and that sucks since I’m sure the smells wouldn’t be the way to go.  But I’ll give this a shot and, should I expectedly fall short on the attempt, I strongly recommend you take a look at a proper, beautiful blog post over at super-couple Silke and Ryan’s Dirtproof website.

On Friday morning I headed out to Leadville with Ryan Lassen and Alberto Rossi, where we started the weekend with a run-hike summit of Mt. Elbert, topping out at 14,433′.  It is the tallest mountain in Colorado, second in the lower 48 only to Mt. Whitney, and my first ever “14er”.  Not a bad way to start the weekend, with two super cool mountain runners, sunny cool weather, and the knowledge we were just getting started.

Mt. Elbert summit approach

Ryan in the lead, we’re smiling because this is completely staged – we were able to run for about 10 seconds at a time given the altitude and grade but we figured we’d look better than being hunched over gasping for air. Credit: Alberto Rossi

Three amigos at the top of Colorado, it took us about 2 hours to cover the 4.5 mile climb.  Back down in about half the time.  Credit: Alberto Rossi

Three amigos at the top of Colorado, it took us about 2 hours to cover the 4.5 mile climb. Back down in about half the time. Credit: Alberto Rossi

Back to the Twin Lakes campground for a perfect afternoon nap while more of the crew showed up.  I chose to sleep in the back of the van for the weekend, which was way better than it sounds.  We got up in time to get ourselves ready for Run #2 up in and over the town of Leadville, a 7-9pm social 10-miler along the Leadville Marathon course.  I’ll be running that race at the end of the month so it was nice to see what I have to look forward to.  We followed up the run with a much appreciated home-cooked dinner hosted by recent Leadville transplant, the incredibly hospitable and talented Leila DeGrave.

Day two, more of the same.  16 miles with the whole group, 11 of us all together, testing our lungs and legs at 10,000′.

Lotta runners running Credit: Silke Koester

Lotta runners running
Credit: Silke Koester

It doesn’t happen often running with this group but there were a very few stretches where I got to take the lead, or at least not run from the very back of the pack.  That’s ok – all of these friends are remarkable in many ways but without exception are phenomenal runners.  Many regularly contend for top spots in competitive races around the country and beyond.  So, when I am feeling strong enough to run in front of anyone, however briefly, I go for it.

I'm enormous!  And super fast!  Somehow I sneaked in front of Alberto and Silke but that never lasts long.  Credit: Ryan Smith

I’m enormous! And super fast! Somehow I sneaked in front of Alberto and Silke but that never lasts long. Credit: Ryan Smith

Three runs and 36 mountain miles into the weekend without a shower, we took a dip in Twin Lakes.  Best guess was the water was in the low 40s, which is just about the temperature where one’s balls try to escape through the spinal cord.  But, it did feel good to be marginally cleaner, at least with less visible filth.  Back to the campground for change of clothes and downtime (because, you know, this sorta life is pretty stressful).

Run hard, drink hard, sit hard.  Telling stories and fables.   Credit: Alberto Rossi

Run hard, drink hard, sit hard. Telling stories and fables.
Credit: Alberto Rossi

It really wasn’t all running, which is good, since I rarely get dropped as quickly just standing on a beach.

The whole crew, minus Neeraj, plus one of the countless (ok, 4) dogs on the trip.

The whole crew, minus Neeraj, plus some of the countless (ok, 4) dogs on the trip. Credit: Alberto Rossi

Back to the van for another remarkably solid night of sleep, then back up in the morning for – wait for it – another run!  We were a smaller group since some of the folks had to return to something approaching real life.  Those who remained got in about 14 miles on the Colorado Trail.

Much of the running above about 11,000' was fairly exposed but plenty of our days were spent winding through Aspens and pines.  Beautiful, serene, the kind of scene that almost helps you forget how bad you smell.

Much of the running above about 11,000′ was fairly exposed but plenty of our days were spent winding through Aspens and pines. Beautiful, serene, the kind of scene that almost helps you forget how bad you smell. Credit: Ryan Smith

Returning home Sunday afternoon, I actually pulled over at a scenic spot along Highway 70 and slept in the van (again) for about 90 minutes.  Mostly, I was just beat and wanted to be safe.  But partly I just didn’t want the weekend to be completely over.  In 3 days I got to run about 50 miles with ~24,000′ of elevation change, all at high altitude, with friends I admire, in perfect weather, with great food.  That’s hard to beat.

After taking Monday off from running, I was eager to test a little more yesterday (Tuesday).  A little too eager, given the high Boulder temps near 100 degrees.  Nonetheless, I headed out and got in 5 mostly solo hours over 18 hilly miles, hitting a couple of the iconic Boulder peaks (Flagstaff and Green, each from base to peak) along with some road and creek path mixed in.  Along the way, at the tail end of the creek path route with some friends, I was introduced to adventure sports legend, Ian Adamson, who seemed unhappy with my shoes and offered me some unsolicited but surely accurate running advice.  Very cool.   Shortly after, I met Paul Hooge as I climbed Flagstaff and we hung out to the summit, back to the base, then back up the frontside of Green, where he dropped me.  But, a huge thanks to Paul for twice letting me use his Steripen to refill my water bottle from some streams, thereby allowing me to continue while diminishing my chances of a giardia-packed gut.

Alrighty.  Time to get back at it.  The Leadville 100 is just nine weeks out, which means less than two months of real training left.  Races June 22 (60k in TX), June 29 (Leadville Marathon), and July 14 (Leadville Silver Rush 50-miler) should be good tests but it’ll be the days in between that will make the difference.