Sunday, December 16, 2012

Back on the running

I am officially back on the running (yes, I say that like its a drug).  After taking about 6 weeks off I started back at it 2 weeks ago with some gym time on various cardio machines with a few miles of running every few days.  My ankle responded well, although this week it feels like it does when I roll it, even though I haven't.  The good news is that the tendinitis is doing well, better than I expected actually, and overall my body is responding well.

This week I got up to 16 miles, all outdoors on the snow packed trails, or sometimes not so packed.  I won't start following a formal training plan until after Christmas, right now I am just trying to get back into running and enjoy the holidays.  As part of stepping up my training to the next level I will be running a lot of hills, sticking with my climbing on Wednesday (weather permitting) and working on speed on Thursdays.  Even if I can't get any big climbing in time on my feet is better than nothing, which again, is what I am going for right now.

In other news I did not get into Western States, no surprise there as I had only a 7.8% chance.  Which means I will try and get into Waldo 100K in August, and I say try because the 2012 race was filled in less than 6 hours and they have yet to release registration details.  My friend is trying to get me to apply for the Cascade Crest 100, and I may, the timing and location work well even though I am not completely sold on the idea of running 100 miles next year (I want to do another summer of sub-100 mile ultras).

I will also start posting my weekly totals, if anything it gives me a chance to see my totals week to week.  So for this week here you go:

16.22 miles, 2:56, 625 ft of elevation - Longest run was 5 miles, but I did manage to run some intentional speed work and hills despite the snow.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012 year in review

It is now November, which means another year of running is in the books, and what a year it was, because 2012 is the year I began ultrarunning.  While I didn't hit some of my speed goals, I do consider this year very successful.  I ran several races I never ran before, ran some races that I now consider classics, and even ran up front in a few races as well.  During training I found new routes, re-discovered old ones, got lost a few times,  got up at 4 AM on vacation to run, and even did some last minute 20 milers.

I like to look at each year and think of what I learned or otherwise how I progressed as a runner.  In 2012 of course I started running ultras, having run marathons for several years if seemed the next logical step.  Not that I have conquered the marathon by any means (just see my results), but I was ready for something different and with how much I enjoy running why not go our there and run for longer?  At any rate, this year I was able to see just how much my body could handle week over week.  I peaked out at 70 mile weeks (65-70 miles) with my low weeks not dropping under 50.

I didn't do near the amount of speed work that I wanted, in fact I really didn't do any at all.  But despite that I was able to still improve me speed and discover how effective adding on more mileage would be for me.  I can only look back and wonder what my times would have looked like if I actually did speed work.  But understand that I hate it, track work is pain, I would rather run half the speed for 10 times longer, as evidenced by the fact that I just didn't do the work.

What I did do was take some video of a few of my routes.  I will try and do more of this next year as I frequently get questions from friends and family about my training runs, and as you can see Alaska truly is a beautiful place!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

2012 New York City Marathon Trip

The 2012 New York Marathon, the year that the marathon didn't happen, but also the year that what needs to be remembered is why the marathon didn't happen. Hurricane Sandy, a physically massive storm (1,000 miles in diameter) made landfall in New Jersey 6 days before the start of the marathon.  This super storm, while New York avoided a direct hit, knocked out power to millions in the east including nearly half of Manhattan, left 43 dead in New York alone (mostly on Staten Island and this number will likely go up), and left the Queens community of Breezy Point devastated after they had a fire that burned approximately 80 homes since first responders could not adequately battle the fire due to flooding.  This does not include the dozens more killed in other areas of the east coast, a massive snow storm in a few other states, and a completely pulverized Jersey Shore.

LaGuardia Aiport, October 30th
Photo courtesy of
The entire race experience began to change when the storm was on the horizon about 10 days out.  I monitored the storm closely on the Sunday before rather than engage in trip planning.  With the many possible power outages, flooding, and closures in the New York area I was not sure if we were even going to make the trip much less actually have any sort of formal itinerary, we would have to play it by ear.  On Monday e-mails started going out from my friends and family that were flying out for the race.  Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Florida, and Virginia were all the states we were coming from, and most of us were flying into New York's LaGuardia airport.  So as you can imagine there was immediate concern as we saw the pictures of the tarmac under water and the news the airport was closed indefinitely, so at this point we were all questioning whether or not the trip would even happen as we may not be able to even get into New York.

On Tuesday morning New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference and specifically stated the marathon was still on.  This news, coupled with the fact that none of our flights were cancelled, and everyone except the runner from Florida decided to attempt the trip.  The first indication we got of the storm damage was when my phone rang Wednesday night while I was boarding my flight that our hotel had no power, most of lower Manhattan was still in the dark.  A quick text to my dad and we moved to plan B which was to stay at our friends house in Queens.

Most of our flights departed our home airports before LaGuardia was even officially open, but the only evidence we saw of the storm flying into New York was a few boat harbors with boats strewn about.  In the airport there was no indication anything even happened in the days prior, nor did we see evidence of any damage during the bus ride on the way to Astoria other than a few broken tree branches.

The first hurdle was actually making it to New York, which we all did on schedule and uneventfully, the second hurdle was transportation in New York.  MTA purposefully parked subway cars on high ground and shut down lines to prevent as much damage as possible, so on Thursday when we landed much of the subwaay system was still not up and running.  We were excited to see that 1 of the 2 lines that run from Queens to Manhattan was up and running, which meant we had a good way to travel between Queens and Manhattan.

A DJ spinning the tunes at the very high energy expo.
About the only part of our plan that was still in place was to hit the marathon expo on Friday morning, which was apparently when everyone else did it as well since the expo was packed.  We got our packets, t-shirts, and then wandered around the expo for a bit before heading over to Times Square to get show tickets.  We had some time between the show (Nice Work If You Can Get It) so we stopped for some food just a few blocks from Times Square.

The 2012 New York City Marathon crew, less Ruth
It all started when the waitress walked up and said "did you hear the news?  The marathon is cancelled!".  What???  I quickly checked my Twitter feed and was fast to dismiss what she said as a simple rumor.  Then my dad got a text from our friend in Queens, marathon cancelled.  We all quickly started checking our phones, then right before our eyes the rumor was confirmed as fact as more and more news agencies were reporting the cancellation of the marathon.  Then we saw the press conference on the TV, the sound was off but we didn't need it, we could see the emotion on Mary Wittenberg's face (CEO of NYRR).

What now?  We all went through many emotions on Friday night wondering what was next.  Do we fly home early?  Do we stay in New York and use the extra time to site-see?  Do we volunteer?  We headed back to the place we were staying at in Queens and after getting some sleep from an emotional evening we starting planning our Sunday that was now wide open during Saturday over breakfast and coffee.  My dad got in touch with a pastor he knew in the Bronx who then got us in touch with a pastor on the hard hit borough of Staten Island.  We got word late Saturday night that they could use our help and we would be welcome on Sunday at Staten Island.

Ferry Terminal on Sunday morning full of volunteers.
There were a few groups that got organized enough in a few days to gather a large number of runners to head out to Staten Island to volunteer, distribute supplies, and even get in a bit of running (most racers opted to not volunteer and either left NY early or ran in Central Park on Sunday morning).  While we were not part of these groups we did happen to be at the ferry terminal (running on generators a week after the storm) at the same time this group was heading off as well, and it was awesome to see so many runners with supplies heading out to contribute.

Heading out to Staten Island sporting our orange marathon shirts.
Dirty legs from mucking out homes. 
We connected with pastor Dave Beidel of New Hope Community Church on Staten Island.  New Hope partnered with other churches on the island and adopted sections of the hard hit neighborhoods along the coastline to assist with cleanup and any other needs the local victims may have.  The area we were in had about 4-6 feet of sustained water in the homes with several larger waves including one that was high enough to reach the second story window.

What was needed was the fully gutting of the homes on the first floor, down to the studs so they can dry out and be inspected.              We spent the afternoon gutting a couple of hopes fully and helping out with a few others. Everything was moved out, flooring, sheet rock, insulation, appliances  kitchen cabinets, everything.  In fact the pictures you see of the large piles of trash in the streets on Staten Island is from all the debris removed from the flooded homes.  Cars were pushed into houses, trees were down, fences blown over, ovens filled with seawater, it was definitely a moving experience being in the homes less than a week after they were flooded.  We could tell by the low numbers of orange shirts that many of the other runners did not make it to this particular area of the island, which was about 5 miles from the terminal, although a few runners did make it and were helping out.

Around 4:30 we started to clean up and get ready to head out.  There is martial law in that particular area due to looting, plus the area has no power so you can't work without light anyway, so all the volunteers and even many of the residents leave once it gets dark.

Sunday night we had some great discussion about the race, volunteering, and our thoughts for the day over some food at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in Times Square.  Then on Monday we headed out for a run in Central Park so we could run under the marathon banners while they were still up, although they were taking it down later in the morning.

What are my thoughts on the cancellation?  It was the right choice based on the events that transpired earlier in the week.  What I mean by this is that many victims (and non-victims) felt like the city of New York and the marathon were forgetting about the storm victims and that holding the race would divert resources and distract from the recovery, much of this is true.  On Thursday the NYRR set up a fund to help Sandy victims and before the press conference was even over there was $1.5 million dollars ($1 million from NYRR and $500k from Asics) the next day the fund was over $2 million (mostly from other sponsors).  Nearly all of the events leading up to the marathon were cancelled on Thursday as well.  I can't help but wonder that if these choices were made and subsequently announced on Tuesday would people have had different thoughts about the race?  Some argued it was about resources, it wasn't, but it was about perception and perception is important.  The people of Staten Island were still pulling deceased victims from the rubble and the water was still in homes on Tuesday when Mayor Bloomberg said the race was on (remember the race starts on Staten Island), so I can certainly see their point of view.  What I still have issue with is them saying earlier in the week the race would go ahead and then cancelling it 38 hours before the start.  Of course in the running world this will be debated about for a long time, and hopefully other race organizers (and of course the NYRR) will learn from this experience.

I do want to add that NYRR donated the finish line food bags, bottled water, and finish line ponchos and shirts.  The hotly debated finish line generators were rentals so they couldn't be donated, and they wouldn't do much good anyway since power quantity wasn't the problem, most homes didn't have power due to structural damage that will first need to be repaired.  In fact as I write this there are thousands still without power but that is almost entirely due to structural damage.  There did seem to be plenty of food and water on Staten Island as well, at least in the area we were in, about everywhere we turned there was someone offering food and bottled water, and kudos to all those restaurants that donated hot meals.

Overall I still have mixed feelings about the situation.  Of course we need to remember those lost in the storm, and I am glad we had the opportunity volunteer and contribute to recovery efforts.  But I am still disappointed the race didn't happen, this is the New York City Marathon after all!  There is still little word from NYRR other than the e-mail about the cancellation (a word that is routinely spelled wrong on their website and in e-mails) and a follow up e-mail that they are working on details for the cancellation.  We have heard that all 2012 runners will have guaranteed entry into the 2013 race, but even this has not come directing from the NYRR.  With that said, depending on the fallout from this years race I am penciling in the race to next years calendar.

Here are some other pictures I captured during the trip.

Residents in line for gas in Queens.

An eerie site looking down 57th street as several blocks were evacuated due to a broken crane hanging  60 stories up above the street. 

Saturday morning.

A guard stands by pallets of finish line shirts and ponchos along Central Park West. 

Box for clothing donations at the finish line. 

Pallets of finish line finish line food bags still in Central Park Monday morning. 

Quite the official marathon vehicle!  In Central Park Monday morning. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Equinox Ultra race report

The relevance of training, that is something I felt I learned the hard way at Equinox.  But I also learned that the easy way at the 50 miler this summer, or at least as easy as an experience like that can be.  For the 50 miler this summer I trained exclusively for that race from back in March and peaked at 70 mile weeks.  For Equinox though I was hardly able to get any running in (or at least it felt like that) for several weeks leading up to the race.  The best I managed was a 33 mile weekend 2 weeks before the race, overall that felt good but I knew that a 40 mile day with over 5,000 ft of climbing was going to be tough.

My friend Jeremy (akworm) and I drove up in his truck and camper the day before.  The plan was to park on campus (race start and finish is at University of Alaska) as close to the start as we could.  We arrived in Fairbanks around 8:30 the night before just as it was getting dark and found the lot across the street from the start was completely empty so we found a dark corner to set up shop.  This proved to be a great plan as we were literally across the street from both the start and the bib pickup the next morning, something we thoroughly took advantage of as we picked up on our bib packets race morning in PJ's with oatmeal in hand.

We woke up on Saturday to a brisk 34 degrees, or at least somewhere in that range.  We got our packets, geared up, and then about 20 minutes before the race start we turned in our drop bags and then hung out in the crowd until the start.

Remember we were 2 people running the ultra out of a registered 39.  Most people run the marathon, and this year there were about 650 of them, add that to the 150 relay teams, and you have about 750 people all involved in a mass start.  Normally races accommodate for this and have a wider course for the first mile or so until things thin out, not so on this one!  You barely get moving until you walk up a steep sledding hill and are met with a gate that is 10 feet wide, talk about a bottleneck!

After that first hill the race enters into a mix of pavement and single track.  Weaving in and out of wooded areas, grass fields, bike trails, and walkways until you reach the base of Ester Dome, the largest climb of the course.  This wasn't too bad, and was NOTHING like the 4 mile climb at mile 42 of the 50 miler!  This climb was shorter, but about the same grade, and the view from the top was amazing!  Once you reach the top of the hill you encounter some smaller climbs before some awesome fun descent on the back side.

The section at the top of Ester Dome is the marathon's only out and back and the first of 2 out and back sections for the ultra, so this is the first view we had of the rest of the field.  Now remember there are marathoners, ultramarathoners, and relay participants  all with different colored bibs.  Ultra had green, relay had maroon, and marathon had black.  So on the out and back section you can see which race a person is participating in, Jeremy and I took advantage of this and would cheer on our fellow ultra peeps.  This worked well until we got a few strange looks from people with green bibs (ultra runners) and then also started to notice some ultra people really not looking well, a bad sign 15 miles into a 40 mile race!  We would later find out that the race ran out of marathon bibs and were handing out ultra bibs for marathoners, so that made more sense.

The ultramarathon course turns off from the marathon course at about mile 20 and proceeds to head onto a dirt road for about 3 miles.  This was the first experience of truly being on an ultra as seeing others runners at this point was rare.  Jeremy and I continued to run together and chatted with a rookie ultra runner for a few minutes on the road section as we made our way down the course.  The only part of the these 3 miles that was noteworthy was the large amount of junk cars off in the trees, and by large amount I mean somewhere around 30 cars.  I guess this is where vehicles go to do die in Fairbanks.

Once leaving the road the ultra course connects back at approximately mile 8 of the marathon course but heading in the other direction.  We continued to move along down the course until we reached the mile 28 aid station that contained our drop bags.  We stuck to our plan for the drop point and within a few minutes were out of the checkpoint and heading off to tackle the 7 mile out and back section of the ultramarathon course.  These 7 miles contained a section named "Death Gully", although I don't remember coming across anything that lived up to this name.  Jeremy and I stuck together heading up the hill but started to separate as Jeremy was having trouble running down hills due to a soar knee.  Despite the discomfort Jeremy showed his veteran running experience and stuck close to me all the way back to the now 35 mile aid station.

We left the aid station and headed off to cover the last 5 miles of the course.  For the most part uneventful except I remember getting passed by another ultrarunner around mile 37 and that Jeremy helped drag me through the last few miles as I was really not wanting to run anymore.  We both came across the finish line in 8:28, 26th and 27th place, last 2 across the finish line!

Back to my original point about training, this race was very different than the 50 miler I ran this summer, and that is due to training.  I was hoping to get in under 8 hours and knew with training going under 7 hours was even possible.  But going into the race both Jeremy and I decided to run together the entire day since we both knew we would not be competing at all but rather just to be out there enjoying the course and enjoying the day, which we certainly did.

Fist Pumps For Freedom!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Resurrection Pass 50 race report

Wow, what a race!  Overall, I had a great day, much better than I expected!  I didn't win or set a course record or anything like that, but I can stand behind my first 50 mile race time with great pride the accomplishment.  Not only did I run 50 miles, but I did so within the official race cutoff and I blew my goal time completely away.  So here is the best that I can recap what a great experience I had.

The race start was at 6:00 AM at the Resurrection Pass trail head in Cooper Landing.  We headed out on Friday to camp a few miles down the road.  I was pretty tired on Friday and would still be getting up at 4:00 AM, so we headed to bed just after 8 once we finished up with dinner.  I really didn't sleep much at all, I fell asleep a few times before midnight and then I pretty much slept the next 4 hours.  After working a few hundred calories and some water in me we left the campsite just a little after 5.  It was strange leaving for a race that I hadn't even registered for less than an hour before the start, it was a day and night difference from the NY Marathon (one of the biggest races in the world) where I was leaving for the start over 4 hours prior!

We turned off the highway to trail head entrance at 5:30 and I could see vehicles lined up along the road and once I saw others runners I got pretty excited.  At this point I was feeling really good with finally being able to run the race after nearly 6 months of training.  After I checked in I spotted last years winner Greg (whom I was running with at times during Crow Pass) and chatted with him for a few minutes.  After the brief pre-race meeting we heard a 5 minute warning from the race director.

This race is unique in many ways, and the race start is one of those, after the 5 minute warning, it seemed like only 2 minutes went by and we heard "GO!".  You have to keep in mind there is no actual starting line, rather the runners were basically in a big circle having just finished the pre-race meeting. About 10 seconds prior to the start I noticed a racer with a single shot waste pack almost start his way up the trail, but once we got the word to take off I figured out what he was doing as he proceeded to take off up the trail ahead of everyone else.

I was standing next to Greg near the trail head when we started so I started right behind him.  I knew Greg was just slightly faster than me so my plan was to run with him for as a long as I could.  Soon after we started 2 other runners tucked in behind us for what had basically become the lead pack of 4 less the guy up ahead.  We got glimpses of the lead runner at times but after about the first hour we never saw him again.  A few runners came and went behind us but I was able to stick with Greg for the first 2 hours until we hit the Swan Lake turnoff at mile 12.  I power hiked the switchbacks running when I could over the next couple of miles. We crossed a small snow field at mile 16 and I saw two runners coming in fairly hard behind me.  One runner squeezed past and I told myself I would try to keep the other behind me, something I managed to accomplish for the rest of the race.

I left my GPS watch at home, the battery life is not sufficient for the entire race and if it died I would no timing device at all, so I opted for a standard watch so I could at least time walk breaks if needed, plus I was afraid that looking at the pace on my watch would be too distracting, rather I wanted to just run at what was comfortable. With that said, I had only 1 spot where I remembered my goal time, the top of Resurrection pass at mile 18.  With a race goal of 11 hours, I wanted to hit the pass at around 9:47 AM, I ran past the sign and glanced at my watch, 9:05, I hit the pass in 3 hours and 5 minutes!  This meant I was way ahead of my pace!  The only other point before the mile 38 aid station that I remember my time was East Creek where I stopped to fill up at mile 23, I was there at 9:52 so 3 hours and 52 minutes.

By this point the trail was mostly downhill except for the short climbs out of the creeks, it was getting hot and I felt like my pace was slowing considerably but I was still able to run with only minimal discomfort.  The only issue I was having was my stomach was not enjoying the 2 gels per hour (110 calories each) I was taking and add the heat to that I was starting to not feel very good.  I stopped at most of the creeks to get a few sips of cold water, rinse my face off, and dunk my visor.  I ran for a while more and then spotted a couple runners in front me that I was pretty sure were 100 milers.  Sure enough, it was my friend Jeremy!  I was excited for a few reasons, first of all I was really happy with the progress he was making!  Plus, it was really exciting to see him on the trail, and he was still running after 80+ miles!  We chatted for a few minutes before I headed back down the trail to finish up the last 7 miles before the aid station at mile 38.

I passed a group of bikers just a few minutes later and asked if they knew how far the trail head was, one of them shouted 7.4 miles, I told Jeremy we were about 30 or 31 miles, so my estimate was right on. I glanced at my watch and calculated how far it would take me to get to the aid station based on my pace, this gave my something to look forward to for the next hour or so.  This was really my first low point in the race, I was getting tired, the heat (by Alaska standards, probably around 70) was getting to me, and I was ready to ditch the weight of my pack.

About 2 miles out from the trail head (mile 38 aid station) 2 runners blew by me like I was standing still. I was annoyed that I let more runners pass me but also pretty encourage that with the slowing of my pace only 2 runners did so (I was really expecting to be passed much earlier).  I got to the aid station at about 12:33 PM, 6 and 1/2 hours into the race and a full 90 minutes ahead of my goal!  I gave Sara the drop bag to take to the aid station but I ended up beating her there so I had to make do without.  Happy just to be in 6th place at this point and finally at the aid station I proceeded with my plan and ditched my pack, ate some watermelon, and ended up finishing off a bottle of Gatorade so I could fill it up with water to take it with me since my hand held water bottle was with Sara in my drop bag.

The aid station volunteers were great and even remembered me from the Hatchers Pass Marathon!  After having a major boost both mentally and physically I left there feeling like great and probably the best I had felt all day, and this after 6+ hours of running and 38 miles!  I saw a few friends of mine driving down the road heading to the aid station to support Jeremy who was running the 100 miler and they told me Sara was just a few minutes behind them. I saw Sara's truck about 2 miles from the aid station and motioned for her to pull over, luckily this race has no restrictions on where you can and cannot accept aid.  I got my iPod, grabbed a few gels (I incidentally left 2 at the aid station), grabbed the hand held bottle and was off to cover the last 10 miles.

The next 2 miles were on the gravel road before turning onto Palmer creek road and heading up the last big hill to finish the final 8 miles. I turned only Palmer Creek road at 1:03 PM, just a little over 7 hours into the race.  I had tried to do some calculations earlier and determined that a sub 9 hour finish was well within reach, and at 7 hours in I had just under 2 hours to complete the last 8 miles of the race, but this also included about 1800 feet of elevation gain.  My plan was to power hike the hill figuring I could do a 15 or 16 minute mile and make it to the top in about an hour.  I pushed as hard as I could at a walking pace with my back hurting and the hill just seeming to be never ending.

I started to see runners coming down the hill but couldn't figure out what place I was in, and really at this point I stopped caring.  I ended up seeing both the leader and Greg who I was running with earlier.  Greg was giving me a hard time about an 11 hour goal time and how completely wrong I was.  I reached the top of the hill right about 2:03 PM, 8 hours into the race.  At this point I was not feeling good, the hill really took a lot out of me.  I drank some coke, ate a few pieces of watermelon, filled my water bottle, and then proceeded to stand hunched over hands on knees for a few minutes trying to compose myself.

While I was looking forward to heading back down, but trying to run was painful, my body just didn't like the pounding.  I had just 4 miles to go and less than an hour to come in under 9.  I saw Jeremy working his way up the hill about 2 miles from the top as I was heading down.  He wasn't moving very quick but mentally seemed to be in a really good place, 94 miles in!  I gave him and his pacer a high five and kept working my way down the hill.  At this point I couldn't even run downhill, so I was walking for 2 minutes and then running for 3 minutes.  I was very glad when the hill was over but wasn't sure just how much farther the finish line was.  I tried to run but it just hurt, I looked at my watch and saw 2:55 PM, I had 5 minutes to cover an unknown distance to come in under 9 hours.

Just after a short trail section in between roads after coming down the hill the course was back on the road at a somewhat confusing intersection.  I looked at the road sign and made an educated guess which direction to go, hoped it was correct and headed down the road.  The course had only 3 markings up to this point, and the 4th was really exciting!  I saw a small florescent pink sign that said "RUNNERS TURN HERE", I turned and saw several people sitting in chairs for what I hoped was the finish line.  A quick glance at my watch said 2:57 PM, is sub 9 hours still possible?!  I realized quickly that those people in chairs were at the finish line!  I ran through in 8 hours and 57 minutes!  Under 9 hours and over 2 hours under my goal time!  That averages out to a 10:43 mile!  Good enough for 8th overall and 7th out of the men (I got chicked by Laura, read the article and you will see why that is okay with me).

2012 Resurrection Pass results - Anchorage Daily News

Overall, I couldn't be more happy with my first 50 mile race, and second ever ultra!  I had no idea I could run 50 miles in that kind of time or feel that good for so long!  I didn't really ever have any major low points, although I did have a few small ones, but all day just had a lot of fun!

During a race like this with just a few aid stations, and not many other runners, you have a lot of time to think, and I was thinking about next years race plans.  Do I attempt a 100 miler next year or run a few more 50 milers and maybe a 100k?  with that said, I doubt I will be able to hold back from submitting a lottery application for the Western States 100 Endurance Run (June 2013).  I told myself that Resurrection Pass was also a mental and physical test, if it went well and I came in well under 11 hours then that would be a test of my fitness, I think I passed that!  Right now I am still enjoying the moment and the great success I had during the race and trying to recover, more food and water please!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Crow Pass Crossing race report

4,700 ft of decent, 3,500 ft of elevation gain, 140 participants, 24 miles, 1/2 dozen snow fields, 6 hours, 1 river crossing, 1 checkpoint, and no aid stations, this is the Crow Pass Crossing race.  Every year on the 3rd weekend in July for the past 29 years racers tow the starting line of what has become an iconic Alaskan back country mountain race.

This was my 3rd start for what was an attempt at my 2nd finish.  I started in 2008 but got lost in thick fog coming down the backside of the pass so I didn't finish within the 6 hour cutoff.  Last year I got my redemption and came across the finish line in 5:04.  The race used to be 2 weeks before the Resurrection Pass 50 and 100 milers, but over the past few years the race directors have moved the dates around so now Crow Pass falls just 1 week prior to the Resurrection Pass races, which means that I really shouldn't be running such a demanding race a week out from my 50 miler.  However, this takes us down a road of tapering and training plans and the different philosophies, ideas, and theories behind them that I won't really go into. But as an example some people believe in a 3-4 taper while others believe that the last hard run should be a week before a big race.  Either way, I enjoy this race so much I just couldn't resist staying away, especially since I was only running 50 miles (go ahead and roll your eyes, or laugh, or call my crazy with that comment) the week after, as apposed to 100.

Almost every Wednesday evening since May my runs consisted of at least 2,000 ft of climbing in no more than than 5 miles.  I did this in preparation for both Crow Pass and Resurrection Pass and also as a form of cross training and just because climbing up mountains has also become terribly fun.  This, coupled with long trail runs on the weekend, meant that I felt I should definitely be able to break 5 hours and get a PR without really having to push myself too hard and pay the price a week later.

The race starts at 7 AM with check in from 6 - 6:30.  We arrived at the trail head at 6 AM and proceeded to check in with the RD.  Off and on for the next hour until the race start rain came down hard at times, leaving most racers wet and cold before starting.  The race starts on the road then goes about an 1/8 mile through the parking lot before hitting the trail head, this means that there is always a bottleneck at the trail head.  I lined up just behind the middle of the pack in hopes of being pushed up the climb by those around me.  I felt with my training I would be strong up the climb so I wanted to take advantage of this as the race goes up over 2,000 ft in the first 3 miles. This plan was working well until I realized I tied my shoes way too loose and needed to stop about halfway up to fix the lacing.  At this point I got passed by several people and more importantly ended up behind people slower than me at a place on the trail where I was unable to pass them.  This probably cost me a few minutes up the pass but I was still able to make to the races only checkpoint in 46 minutes (well within the 1 hr cutoff) which was a full 10 minutes faster than last year (the leaders make it there in about 34 minutes)..

We crested the 3,500 ft pass and were met with high winds with cold and painful pounding rain mixed in.  The next 10 miles down the pass and through the valley towards the river turned out to be some very tough miles, by far the worst in the 3 times I have ran the race.  We had to cross several hard packed snow fields, faced very overgrown trails, more cold rain, lots of large and wet rocks, and plenty of mud.  I probably fell 10 times on my way to the river which included one bad spill on a snow field that left me muddy and scraped up.

I ended up catching another runner just as we arrived at the river crossing in 2 hours and 33 minutes.  I was really hoping I would hit the river around the 2:15 mark but the rough trail really slowed me down.  I adjusted my pack prior to crossing the river and watched the racer in front of me forge ahead.  The river crossing can be tricky.  First of all, the river is ice cold due to being glacier fed so your legs go numb after about 10 seconds, but that also feels good in a way.  The crossing is not 1/4 wide as the race organizers advertise, the entire river crossing area may be 1/4 mile wide, but the really deep part is probably only 50 meters.  We had several 70+ degree days this week which mean the river would most likely be high.  I knew this was the case as I saw the racer in front of me who is about 6' 5" had the river go up to his waste at one point.

I made it through the river without incident and pushed ahead. After taking a bad spill on some rocks and scraping up my leg just after the river I caught up to the racer whom I was behind just a few minutes before. He ended up being a guy named Greg who I later found out was the 50 mile winner at Resurrection Pass last year.  We ran together for what must have been well over an hour.  Chatting at times and at other times just running quietly.  The trail from the river to the nature center is mostly run-able with just a few technical sections and is essentially flat, so I knew I could try and pick up some time on the second half.  I used Greg as my pacer as he was running at a slightly faster pace than I would have.  I walked a small section to eat a gel about 5 miles from the finish and ended up hitting my head pretty hard on a fallen tree.  I walked for a few more minutes to make sure I was okay and then decided to run it out (I ran the last 2.1 miles in 19 minutes).

I knew the last section of the trail fairly well and made a mental choice to run into the finish without doing any walking despite a few rocky sections and some short uphills.  The last 3 miles I ended up passing 4 people, including someone in the last mile, I attribute this to my 50 mile training as my endurance was still going strong.  I looked at my watch and realized I would be really close to finishing in 4:45, I just kept running and tried to stay strong until the end.  I came across the line in 4:45.46 for 82nd place (120 finishers, 100 of those male), a PR by about 18 minutes!  On a side note my GPS said 22 miles with a 12:56 average mile (the is advertised at 24 miles but the trail changes every year depending on snow and other conditions, plus there is a high and low side of the trail for a few miles on the second half that changes the distance slightly as well)..

This race is always a humbling experience, and this year was no different.  I fell probably a dozen times including 2 pretty rough falls, I hit my head on a tree pretty hard, got hit in the face several times with tree branches, took a branch stub to the shoulder, was at times covered in mud up to mid shin, basically the trail had its way with me.  But, I am feeling pretty good this morning with just a little soreness and stiffness, and will head out for a 4 mile run to loosen things up later today.  Then this week is just a few small and easy runs to keep everything loose before the big race this weekend.  Overall, a good day on a fun, but quite challenging, trail.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Running in Hawaii

On April 25th my wife and I headed down to Maui for a much needed tropical vacation.  What this mean to me was hitting up some trails and getting in some quality runs that didn't involved snow.  After doing much research the weeks leading up to our trip I scouted out 3 different areas I wanted to visit, so after a few months I am finally posting some pictures and data.

Makawao Forest Reserve - The parking area is about 40 minutes from Kehai, the road is all paved and you are blessed with some great views of the island as as you climb about 2,500 ft on the way (parking area is about 2,700 foot elevation).  I headed out for 3 loops, a little over 5 miles per loop with 900 ft of climbing each. The trail was all single track and went through several different areas of vegetation.  The moderate climbing meant running uphill was doable and bombing the downhill was really fun.  The only problem I had was this was my first run with any sort of vertical for the year so I pretty well destroyed my quads on the downhills, but it was fun either way!

Up at 4 AM for what turned out to be an awesome run.  First person in the parking lot and glad Hawaii doesn't practice daylight savings time. 

Really big tree.

Overall a totally awesome trail.

Hard to believe this is on a tropical island.

Lahaina Pali Trail - This trail goes up and over the southern point of the northern mountain of Maui, and is only about 10 minutes drive from Kehai.  I tried to hit the east side trail head before sunrise to catch the sun coming up over Haleakala but I couldn't find the trail head in the dark, so I headed over to the west side trail just off the highway.  The trail climbs about 1,500 feet in about 3 miles then goes up on the point for about a mile before dropping back down the other side.  Due to time constraints I just went to the top, VERY windy, buy some great views!

Windblown and barren landscape. 

Anyone see the irony in a conservation area with giant wind turbines?

Looking west toward one of Maui's smaller offshore islands. 

Looking north at yet another island.

Polipoli State Park, Kula Forest Reserve - This is a beautiful redwood forest located about an 1 hr and 15 minute drive from Kehai  After taking winding paved switchbacks through farm country you eventually end up on a dirt road built for logging.  I drove the road in our rental car (and got a flat tire) but it was very derivable in a sedan despite the 4-wheel drive only sign.  However, this was under dry conditions, had it been raining a 4-wheel drive would definitely have been needed!  Due the unexpected length of travel time I only managed a short 5 mile loop that I created based on a map I found.  The unique part about this location is that it is located about 5,500 above sea level and you can actually connect to a massive system of trails including the spine of Haleakala volcano.  The 5 mile loop I did had about 1,500 ft of elevation gain with a high point of 6,500 ft.

The drive provides some incredible views. 

Another awesome trail!

Deep in the redwood forest of Maui.

You can actually go all the way up the spine to the summit from here. 

Good shot of the sun rays beaming through the trees. 

Watch for cows!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Running, running, more running, and some snow

It is now the middle of May and my 50 miler training is in full swing.  I was reminded of this over the weekend when I embarked on a 24 mile training run, which was still on roads but I will get to that later, and then followed that up with a 12 mile run the next day.  That capped off a 60 mile week.  From here on out, my weeks will not drop below 50 and will top out at 70.  I have discovered, at least for me, that more miles means strong legs and faster times.  That may not be true for everyone, but after running consistently for several years that is one of the many items I have discovered.

It is now spring in Alaska and that has me excited.  Most of the snow in town has melted (note the use of the word "most") and temps have been steadily increasing and are up to the lower 60's this week.  With that said, I realized the other day that I just ran through a record winter, we had over 135 inches of snow here in town, and I was actually running during the exact time that we broke the record.  While I was gladly cheering to break the record once we got close, the problem with this is the mountains are still buried under several feet of snow, which is why I have been having to getting creative on my runs and running more on roads than I had hoped to be at this point in the year.  All in all however, the snow melted much faster than I thought it so the trails are only a few weeks behind where the would be on a normal snow year.

We just got back from a vacation in Maui a few weeks back where I managed to check out a few trails, so I will post on that and a few other of my runs later on, but for now, here are some pictures about winter and spring running here in Anchorage.

The section of single track by my house on December 24th, looking west. 

Same section of trail on the 24th as well, looking east. 

That same section trail but this was taken on May 6th, looking west. 

Same section of trail also on May 6th, looking east. 

A trail marker near Kincaid park, March 17th.

That same marker, March 31st. 

And finally, that same trail marker on May 6th.

Park benches, taken March 31st. 

Those same benches on May 6th. 
The melting snow resulting in a swamp that looks like something out of Lord of The Rings rather than a forested section in the middle of Anchorage. 

Hard to see perception, but about 2 feet of snow pack.  Like many trails in Anchorage it is groomed during the winter for skiing.  This confirms my estimates that I was running on 2-3 feet of snow pack all winter, perhaps more in some areas. 

Found this gem buried in my phone, taken on February 11th.  Looking southwest from the Coastal Trail.  This was actually taken exactly 1 week before the Little Su 50k. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Little Su 50k post race report

I did it.  I ran an ultramarathon.  Does that make me an ultramarathoner?  Probably not, just like playing a round of golf doesn't necessarily make you a golfer.  Either way, I managed to complete something that places me into a much more elite group than completing a marathon.  With that said, here is my (very late) post race report for the Little Su 50k.

Training - I won't talk much about training since I have covered this in previous posts.  However, I do need to note that 2 weeks prior to the race I set out for a 16 miler which was my last big training run before the race.  The Friday before this run Anchorage received about 8 inches of fresh snow, so I knew my run was going to involve some trail breaking, what I didn't know what just how tough this run was going to be.  Running in 8 inches of fresh powder is actually pretty fun, but doing shin deep post holing for nearly 2 miles through dense snow that has been plowed off the streets and landed on the sidewalk is not fun, nor is it fast.  About 4 miles into my run I actually called my wife to come get me because those 4 miles took me well over an hour, at this past 16 miles was going to take all day.  Long story short, I managed to find a groomed section of trail for several miles before running on several more miles of very loose snow.  This was the toughest training run I had been on this winter, and the reason I mention this is because it turned out it was great preparation for the race as it was actually so bad, the course conditions of the race were never nearly as bad as this.

Race Day Prep - The start was about 2 hours from the house so I woke up in enough time to eat and get through my race morning ritual.  The difference here from other races is that  I needed to pack snacks with me since race start was going to be over 3 hours after I ate, much later than I am used to.  We arrived at the start line and it was about 15 degrees, which was well below the forecast high of 29.  I had my clothing dialed in very well so I knew I would be comfortable anywhere between 5 and 30 degrees with what I would be wearing.  I stuck to my plan and packed an extra set of gloves, a spare hat (to change mid race), my first aid kit, headlamp (required), rear flashing light (also required), and top and bottom wind gear as the course has been known for wind in some years.  I packed as light as I could with my pack weighing probably just a few pounds.  To my surprise there were several people with very large packs who looked more like they were heading out on a multi day backpacking trip then a 50k race, so I felt pretty smart with the relatively minimalist solution I used.

Everything I need for race day.  Not shown in this picture is my pack that all this goes into, and the extra set of hat and gloves. 

Pre-race meeting, manditory for the 100 milers as it also includes gear check but optional for the 50k races.  As this was my first year running this race, I decided to attend, it also gave me the chance to pick up my packet. 

The Race - The start of the race was unlike anything I had ever been a part of, but then again I had only been a part of shorter trail races and common distance road races.  When the gun went off no one was in a big hurry to go anywhere, as tradition for winter races the bikers went first, then the skiers, and then the runners.  I stuck to my plan and set out at a comfortable pace and would run for as long as I could.  The first 3 miles were along a road but the trail was in good shape so I was doing about a 9:30 mile.  I knew these conditions wouldn't last so I increased my pace to take advantage of the conditions but not so much that I got winded.  After about 3 miles we crossed the main road and ran on a paved road for about another mile.  I was actually really excited at this point because I figured this meant that at least 8 miles of the course was in good shape, but then I remembered the return route was different, I tried not to let that get me down and increased my pace a little more on the flat and fast road.

The sun was out and the temp was warm, probably upper 20's at this point, I was getting a little warm and actually started to cycle my gloves on and off through the remainder of the race.  After the road section was my first taste of running on snow machine trails, and overall it still wasn't as bad as I was predicting. For several miles we then had a fun downhill section before entering the "tunnel of love."  Picture a trail through the woods for about 3 miles that is only about 3-4 feet wide surround closely be trees, this is the tunnel of love, fun but tough section.  I  passed a few bikers on a rough uphill section and continued on until we got out onto the flats.  This is section where I started seeing the first 100 mile racers that started a few hours earlier.  I really had no idea where I was in the standings but simply pressed on at the best pace I could.

I really didn't walk much the first half except for a section in the flats that was more post holing and simply not runable, but that only lasted about a 1/2 mile. After another section of trail in the woods, which was actually really fun, we dropped down a hill onto Flathorn lake.  This meant I was close to the halfway point, which had an aid station stocked with water and also marked the course where the 100 milers went straight and the 50k races took a left. This was also where we got some stunning view of Mount Susitna (the mountain the race is named after), running almost right up to the mountain gave me a little boost. I got to the checkpoint, filled up my pack with water, ate a frozen Stinger Waffle, changed my hat, thanked the aid station volunteers, and continued on down the trail.  The aid station warned me about overflow about 100 yards down the the trail (we were still on Flathorn lake), I saw the spot, slowed down, and chose my path carefully while trying to stay dry.  Which of course meant that the last step I took was right into ankle deep, freezing cold water,  so much for staying dry. It turns out however that my socks are awesome and after about 5 minutes my foot was fine, which was good since I didn't break any extra socks.

About 10 minutes later just as the course took a left off the lake and headed back into the trees I passed a walker who told me I was the 9th runner.  9th?  I am actually in the top 10?  There are only 8 runners in front of me?  I knew there were not that many runners in the race, but I was still really excited about the possibility of a top 10 finish, so I took a quick look behind me and didn't see anyone, nor had I seen anyone in front of me for a while, so I vowed to myself to not let any runners pass me.

The second half of the course had some exiting parts, but more some not so exciting parts, of course this might have been due to fatigue.  I ran when I could, but walk breaks started to become more and more frequent.  Running on loose snow for 20+ miles at this point was starting to wear on me.  I was pleased to discover that both my body temperature and stomach were doing well.  The planning I did on training runs in regards to calorie and water intake was really paying off, I never really got hungry or thirsty the entire race.
After running through some more sections in the woods which really helped break up the scenery of the course we entered into a very long straight section, turns out it was around 3 miles.  Then the course took a dog leg left for another 3 mile straightaway, this is when I saw a runner about 1/2 mile in front of me that I attempted to pick off, but then he caught on and started running so I never did catch him.

I looked down at my watch to see something exciting, it said 26 miles, just a fraction of a mile more and I will have run farther than I ever have before.  26.2, this is it, an ultra, running more than 26.2 miles, I remember having a big smile on my face, enjoying the moment, then looking down to see that my watch died before I hit 27 miles, at least I got to see it go past 26.2.

At this point in the course I was on what I was hoping to be the last straightaway, I was also beginning to curse my decision for doing the race, which I was actually surprised took me this long.  Usually I curse the race within the first few miles, but this race took me 5 hours, so to me this meant the race was going well.  I saw what looked like the end of the straight section, which meant I was almost back along the road, which also mean I only had about 3 miles to go.  This seemed right as it was soon after my watch died so I knew I was past 27 miles.

Just before I crossed the road again and was back on the section we took at the beginning of the race, I got my headlamp out and then got ready for the last 3 miles.  I checked my fuel, only 1 gel remaining, so I took a sip of water, nothing, out of water, which meant no gel, I would to just tough it out for the last 45 minutes.
I ran what I could, which was between trail markers, I was really tired, and my hands were getting cold.  The sun was starting to set so the temperature was dropped, fast.  I kept looked ahead for the point where we crossed the road again and headed into the last 1/4 mile.  Then I saw it, the small section of the course just up the hill from the start.  I picked up the pace, took a right turn, and headed down the hill to the finish line.  I could see Sara jumping up and down cheering and a race official with a stopwatch in hand.

6:58:13, just under 7 hours and good enough for 8th place!  Which means a top 10 finish in my first ultra, I will take it!  The winner on foot was 5:33 so I felt really good about my finish time.  Overall there were 22 runners, 16 male and 6 female, which put me at the middle of the pack, again, I am very happy with that.  I was 34 overall out of 74 of all divisions, a good day.

Having the short memory that ultrarunners have I am already planning on running the full 100 mile race in 2014.  This involves pulling a sled with 15 lbs of gear through frozen terrain in the middle of an Alaskan winter, sounds fun right?  It is also 4 points for the UTMB race in Europe that has now become a bucket list item for me, but one step at a time!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Running through the winter

 This is my first winter where I have run significant amounts, and this is mostly due to training for the Little Su 50k which took place just yesterday.  However, I feel the need to note that I picked one heck of a winter to race a winter ultra!  But more on that later, first, some thoughts on running in the winter.

 With the emergence of the young Spaniard, Killian Jornet, the talk with many ultra runners right now is what to do during the winter "off season" (in quotes because the actual off season varies greatly).  Most runners take as little as a few weeks or as many as a few months off from running at the end of their perspective seasons, and for those of us in North America this also happens to fall around the winter months.  There are much fewer races in the winter, so even training hard through the winter doesn't always make much sense as significant rest can be much more beneficial.  However, Killian competes in ski competitions every winter, and with that hangs up his running shoes until the spring.  While no one can determine the exact reason, he manages to compete in winter ski events and then transition to summer running and compete there as well.  In fact, his early competitions were all skiing, with significant amounts of running coming in just the past few years.

 Many runners are now considering taking on a similar training cycle.  Rather than rest or reduced mileage in the winter they are putting on a fresh coat of wax on the skis and hitting the trail.  Whether or not this will make a difference to those in the front of the pack will be hard to measure, and even then many will debate the true reason.  However, even with my limited knowledge of the human body I can say that often times routine workouts can cause the body to plateau, and simply changing the type of workout, distance, effort, or some other variable can help break out of that rut.  So maybe the changing of skiing to running and back to skiing for many years does a body good.

 Now, back to winter running.  Hitting the trails in the height of winter to most people in the lower 48 probably just means a little more mud, ice, and the occasional cold temperature with a few days of snow, not so in Alaska.  The biggest aspect of winter up here is that the snow is on the ground for a solid 4 months (at least), usually the first snowfall to stick is in November and the snow is on the ground in significant amounts until early April, and this is just in the city, so you must be well aware and mentally ready to run on snow for months.  Many of the mountain trails don't ever fully clear of snow, much like high elevations in Utah or Colorado, with the trails not even becoming runable until at least May.  Even in the summer snow can fall above 3,000 ft and mud, snow fields, and glacier streams are normal on many trails.  Cold years can be much worse.  The first year I can Crow Pass there was still 4-5 feet of snowpack going over the pass, and that was the 3rd weekend in July.

 So running in Alaska in the winter is much different than running in the lower 48 in the winter, case in point this year.  The normal annual snowfall for Anchorage is about 70 inches, we hit that the first week of December.  Already we have had over 100 inches of snowfall, and we still have 2 months left and with that at least 2 more storms of 6 inches or more.  Our year to date totals have been past the record year of 54-55 where 132 inches of snow fell.  I don't think we are going to break that record, but there is a lot of snow out there!  Also, January was one of the coldest months on record as measured by average temperature, which I believe ended up somewhere around 2 degrees, brrr.

 The long and short of it, I picked one heck of a winter to run an ultra!  And my rookie ultra at that!  That 24 miler at -5 degrees was pretty darn tough, and the 16 miler as my last long run in 8 inches of fresh snow was also tough!  But I will dive more into that in my post race review.  Essentially, I just wanted to go over some winter thoughts and also post some pictures I took of my last run before the race, they don't really give justice to the amount of snow but do give you an idea of the current snow pack.
I should get my post race report up later this week, for now, enjoy some snowy pictures!

Running through 8 inches of fresh, unbroken powder. 

Trail breaking in the fresh snow is actually pretty fun!

A consequence of running along the road.  The snowplows come through and throw hard and packed snow on the trail, impossible to run as you have to conduct shin deep post holing. 

Many sidewalks have become tunnels around town, these walls about 5 feet high.

This trash can helps put the snow pack into perspective as it is now barely sticking out from the snow. 

There is actually a bench under there. 

The bench.  This section of the trail is susceptible to snow drifts so it usually has greater snowpack.

This isn't a really tall sign, about 3 feet or so, but gives you an idea of the snowpack on the local groomed trail.