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!