Monday, May 18, 2015

May 11-17

Monday: Off, drove back late from Yosemite.

Tuesday: I ran conversational pace heading up Temescal with Elan and Pedro in an attempt to scope out the fitness and body after 3 weeks of intervals. I've had a bone to pick with Green Peak because I ran my time 32:28 route last June, and have felt inadequate every time I've run it since then and can't even break 35 minutes. It got really bad in January when I thought I was getting in shape for Sean O'Brien and I couldn't even break 36. Eventually later in February I got just under 35, but it was definitely a sign that things weren't working. I finally started doing intervals for this last cycle and was pleased that such a lax effort with Elan and Pedro resulted in a 38 minute segment. Not too pleased with rolling my ankle and irritating my peroneus at the start though..
10 mi, 2100ft, 1:24

Wednesday: I slept in and resolved to run Temescal at a tempo pace to see what might happen. The result: 33:32! Still a minute behind my PR, but finally out of my 35 funk. The strange thing was that compared to my PR, I lost time for the first 2 miles, and then held strong for the last 1.6 miles, not loosing any more time. I think this past VO2max period gave me a big boost as far as handling sustained stress, and the immediate hope for pure speed will take another cycle for more development through my tempo phase.
9mi, 2000ft, 1:17

Thursday: Easy run up and down Westridge.
7mi, 1100ft, :58

Friday: Ideally, I wanted to do a longer tempo run on Wilson, but I ran out of time and energy, so I kept it to 90 minutes. I was on the fence about doing a step-back week, but I decided to play it by ear. It was apparent on Friday afternoon that I didn't need any more tempo runs this week as I puffed up to Orchard Camp in 39 minutes. My peroneus started to act up again and the downhill wasn't so pretty. It might be the high collar on the second V3 proto, but that should get fixed in a week.
10 mi, 3,000ft, 1:26

Friday PM: Coaching Katie during her intervals (she hated them, so I know I did my job).
5.5 mi, 900ft, 1:02

PCT east of Three Points
Saturday: I regret to admit it, but I engaged in a bit of self-destructive behavior. Katie and I got up late and slowly made our way to Three Points to run 20 miles of the easier terrain on the AC course. We started just after lunch, and I was dizzy and lightheaded running back towards Cloudburst. I knew it was supposed to be an easy run, but I wanted to avoid drinking the 2 liters of water I was carrying and eating the 1000 calories I had to train my body to run on nothing. Needless to say, it was self-destructive and made the run much less beneficial than it should have been. I eventually started eating and getting my rhythm back, but I was surprised that I had gone into this self-destructive mindset when I had already accomplished so much in the past few weeks. I thought about it, and it felt like it was the most old-school, confusing, unnecessary concept; something from the 1992 movie "The Mighty Ducks" where Emilio Estevez can't get past his self-destructive habits and just use his damn talents to help kids win some hockey games. I have so many challenges and tasks to do on a daily basis, I literally had to ask myself "what the hell is this Self Destructive Bullshit?!". It's a larger concept that ultrarunners fall prey to, as we are out there to do a bit of damage to our bodies, but it's not the sole purpose. It might indicate that we've worked hard, but it's not a sign of progress or ability. I could drive down the freeway in 2nd gear redlining my engine, but it'd be retarded and a huge waste of time and money (and transmission). It's definitely something that will let me progress much more as a runner if I can get past it.
20 mi, 4,100ft, 3:57

Cooper Canyon

Sunday: I got up and stretched a good amount until the body felt back to normal, and I headed up Acorn to attempt a loop over Pine Mountain, and up Cabin Flat. It was a beautiful day in the clouds, but it made it hard to find my way down the ridge without line of sight navigation to my target saddle that I had ran to in January. Eventually I found my way through the briers and made it out alive (very alive). Chalk it up to specific training for UTMB.
14mi, 5,300ft, 4:04

The West Ride of Pine Mountain (at least part of it)

76 miles, 14:09, 18:700 ft in a week isn't huge, but it's good to have consistency. I do need to keep an eye on my peroneus and hip over the long weekend to keep a positive progression going. I'm not afraid to heal myself before I go after the next big training goals.

Monday, May 11, 2015

May 4-10

Two weeks in a row! Wow, this blogging thing is actually happening. I think it’s going to take some time to improve my transmission of thoughts to printed word in this non-professional format, but I’m sure it’ll eventually come to fruition week by week (hopefully along with my running).

This year my only race on the calendar as of today is UTMB. I’m not going to lie and say that was my plan all along: not to do Angeles Crest or Western and to just focus on UTMB, but the powers that be pushed me in this direction and I've come a long ways from “FOMO-itis” to being grateful for the time and space to develop my running structure and slowly transform my body to the level I want it to be. Without the rush of an impatiently fervent racing schedule, I can do proper periodization, schedule in rest weeks, take advantage of trips to run where my heart leads me, and study my week to week performance without rushing into the “I need to be running X miles this week!” self-destructive training behavior.

I do take UTMB training seriously and have the ambition to perform well, but the race doesn't illicit the same insecure response for suddenly running more mileage to remove the possibility of being under-trained for AC or WS. I look at UTMB as a low altitude Hardrock, which is a race that I learned a lot from in 2012. My line graph for training in 2012 went something like:
-December 2011: Getting in through the lottery and going nuts on the drive from SF to LA: Stoke level 100!
-January 2012: Getting super amped to train and hitting 90mi/30,000 ft of vertical (mostly running) weeks in January, stoke level: 90
-February 2012: Ripping my calf on an easy 8 mile run due to over-training, stoke level: 10
-March/April/May/June: Slowly getting back to training and gradually increasing stoke and strength, stoke: 30-80
-July: Suffering from the altitude, but having zero muscle/joint problems and finishing as 2nd sea level athlete (without an altitude tent). Stoke level: 100

Essentially, I understand what a 100 mile/33,000ft+ race entails, and I understand the proper tempering of stoke to keep the body efficient and not anxious in the mountains. I also understand that 20-34 hours for a hundred miles entails hiking and running strong without blowing up or abusing the body too sharply. Dramatic running is best saved for later in the race, and the “magic” of a good performance is having an efficient hiking cadence. This whole structured 100 mile concept is something that can leverage my outlook on a lot of other goals if I do it right in Chamonix.

May 4-May 10:
Monday: Waking up at 4:45 AM isn’t easy, but it’s even tougher when you spend the night tossing and turning with a fever, headache and cough. I haven’t been sick in quite some time, but running to Baldy with not enough water or sleep on Saturday definitely irritated my throat and exposed my body. At any rate, Monday morning sunrises in the high country are epic and make me so grateful to be able to squeeze 4 days of running a week out in the San Gabriels. I am a resident of the mountains and a visitor of the city. 4.5 mi/1,000ft/:60

Tuesday: Maybe I was sick, maybe I was tired, maybe I hate flat terrain, or maybe I just struggle to run in the evening, but the 10x90sec reps around the golf course were pretty pitiful. The body felt heavy and unresponsive, so my lungs at least got a workout and I felt better once I got home to have exorcised a few slow and fat demons. 8mi/230ft/:63

Wednesday: Wow, I’m tired. I’ve been lacking in the quality running department for a while, and the increased VO2Max work really challenges my energy levels. I eventually got out of bed and headed down the San Vicente median for 10k. Listening to the Toro y Moi album “What For” for the 100th time has really been thoroughly enjoyable. Most good musicians are some form of brilliant, but there’s something about the way Chaz arranges his layers to create songs that last for a long time, and don’t get stale. The song exploder breakdown of “Half Dome” is a great example. I noticed all those layers after listening to the track 100 times and get a little bit of boogie in my day each time I hear each riff. The feeling is something of efficient energy that I connect with in my UTMB aspirations.

Wednesday PM: Went out to run Sullivan Ridge with Katie, and got a little active recovery. Katie always stubbornly sets the pace on easy runs at easy (go figure), so it's good to run together and completely forget about the watch. 5.4mi/1000ft/:58

Woke up and got focused on the workout: uphill 3x2min, 3x1.5mi, 3x1min, without too much of a hitch in my step. It wasn't pretty, but as the sun rose, I got more into the workout and as I focused on my breathing and stride, which appears to have come some ways in the past 18 days. It was fun doing them near Katie as we reviewed our efforts on the recovery, and it helped me see where my stride was lacking. Definitely not anywhere near my peak, but definitely out of the valley of injury. (Oh, and I also got a tick)

Friday: Nothing, traveling to Yosemite.

Saturday: Our Pacific Mountain Running brothers Peter Brennen and Andy Pearson were in Yosemite to attempt to run 100 miles through the parks best trails, so we decided to head up and join them for a few miles and heckle where it seemed fitting. The Thursday storm packed the punch of a decent February storm, and put down a posthole decree above 8,000 feet. Lucky for Katie and I, we only were doing the first 20 miles with them, and enjoyed the idyllic 2-5 inches of snow and warm bluebird day. Yosemite is a place that crams in so much emotion and detail in each mile, that your soul and mind can feel filled to the brim in just a few miles. Thus, the pace isn't usually the chief concern, but goofy CCC trail building still keeps effort high enough to leave you beat by sundown.

Sunday: We slept in and packed the Volvo to the gills with Peter and Crista's glamping gear, and headed back to the valley. Katie was ready to go but I still had a few things to get jammed in my pack when at the last second, I heard the sarcastic voices of Peter and Andy. We had expected to see them around 3 PM, but they bailed on the full route and skipped the Buena Vista loop to keep it a humane 28 hour/72 miles jaunt. Postholing at 2AM for 3 hours isn't something I'm envious of. Katie and I hit Half Dome up to renew out love for each other and climbing big rocks, which just so happened to start almost 6 years ago in that very place. 

Week total: 76.7 miles, 16,300 ft, 17:35

Not a lot of miles, but some long days over the weekend left a smile on my face as I transition into tempo work (aka the fun stuff)

Monday, May 4, 2015

April 27-May 3

I’m going to try to be more thoughtful about my running by keeping a regular weekly journal. I don’t think my current state of recording runs by “witty” Strava titles is good enough at helping me locate trends and daily thoughts that come into my mind. With the advent of social media, I (and many other runners) have learned a lot more about running in the mountains, so this blog is public in an attempt to share some ideas and open myself to criticism for the larger goal of moving faster and more efficiently in the mountains. So without further adieu…

April 27-May 3rd

Monday: Woke up early to get in a run before heading back to LA, did a short run up Mt. Williamson from Islip in some windy conditions. The sunrise from the trail packed in a lot of inspiration in 3.4 miles. 3.4 mi/1250ft/:40

Tuesday: It’s the 2nd week of VO2Max workouts, which is also the 2nd week of structured running post knee injury, which means it’s not pretty. I’m seeing progress with my knee by incorporating Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), but it’s tough to get a good stretch in my hamstrings without cheating. My legs have become so tight over years of trail running, that I’m constrained to a very small leg swing and can’t run fast without a fight. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s what’s working at taking pressure off my knee, which felt like it would’ve taken months to recover at the outset of pain during Gorge 100k. The 9x90 sec intervals with Katie weren’t too easy, and Katie was startlingly close to me. The 400/800m high school track star is not dead in her. 9 mi/1500ft/1:17

Wednesday: Was going to do an easy road run, but saw Guillaume at Bundy and San Vicente and decided to link up. I tried to keep up with him last Thursday heading up Westridge Drive, but he was charging and I was 4 days back into my training. Today we ran a good pace together and talked a lot about the usual Western/UTMB/AC race hypothesis. Knowing Guillaume, he might over-train for AC, but he’s going to be tough to keep up with early on in the race, which I’ve done successfully before. He’s very thorough in his planning, but ultrarunning is an ever-evolving science that keeps disproving ideals of all varieties. Regardless, I hope the Frenchman pulls off a Ram in August, and finds some personal truths and satisfaction. 10mi/1400ft/1:19

Thursday: I had planned this 5-4-3-2-1 minute interval workout in my schedule to be a fun, gradual VO2Max workout, but I woke up tired and late, and rushed the warm up through Sullivan Canyon. The first 5 min rep was barely faster than my warmup, the 4 min rep made me go to the bathroom, and the 3/2/1 reps were on the steeper exit of the canyon and made my legs complete mush. At the very least I got some ugly anaerobic running in, which felt terrible but was what my lungs needed. The cooldown with Andy and Peter was refreshing, until Andy opted for the singltrack on Sullivan Ridge. The idiot has a bruised knee and still opts for the gnar.. 9mi/1500ft/1:11

Friday: A big project at work was getting exciting, and I wasn’t getting any extra sleep, so when I put my shoes on at the Mt. Wilson trailhead, I didn’t have to remind myself to run easy. I slogged to Orchard Camp and sat down ready to fall asleep. Though the views up top would have been beautiful, I couldn’t dig another training hole this early in the schedule, so I turned around. 7mi/2400ft/1:17

Friday Night: Katie wanted to run, so on our way to Wrightwood, we stopped at Kratka Ridge (Aka Scenic Mount) and headed up the west face of Williamson. Katie was tired too, so we leisurely marched to the summit and took in the view before heading back. 3mi/1100/:47

Saturday: Though I only got a few hours of sleep, a good cup of Tom’s Coffee and a cinnamon roll had me on the trail at 8:30 to link up with Jorge at the top of Acorn. I’d wanted to get more climbing into my week for UTMB aspirations, and the North Backbone trail was in perfect condition. I however was not, and had some rough climbs to endure. We reached the summit of Baldy and talked with people in the bar-like scene of 50+ hikers and runners taking in the views. We glissaded back down towards Dawson and met Katie. One good .9mi/1300 ft climb deserves another and we turned around to head back up and join the summit party. I started to get dehydrated and my sore throat turned into a headache/fever/cough by Sunday morning, but for the day, it was a rewarding 15mi/7900ft/5:00 adventure.

Sunday: Though I was not convinced at all that I should get out of bed and do an interval workout, the sun in Wrightwood was strong and persuasive. I struggled up Acorn, and then did 10x2min on the way to Inspiration Point with Katie. It got more fun as the trail dove and picked up speed, and though Strava wasn’t convinced, I did in fact have a good workout. A 39 minute jog from Inspiration to Vincent Gap was a nice end to the weekend, showing decent mobility after Saturday’s adventure.

Total: 70 miles/20,181 ft./13:47 

I’ve been following all different type of ultra runners, and I think we’re definitely in a completely different era of competition and raw performance. I don’t think there’s much fear in Rob Krar’s mind of “going out too fast” or “burning his quads” or anything similar to the former years’ ideas.  His performance at the Canyons 100k this weekend shows this supreme confidence in his strength, durability, flexibility, diet, etc. etc. The sum of raw power he puts out is hugely inspiring. It’s a display of what humans are capable with a strong mind and capable body.. And I can see him running sub 2 hours down Cal Street in June, which is 25-30 minutes faster than what it took to win two years ago. #sick 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Post Gorge 100k Recap and Summer Philisophy

Well, that was a rough trip to Oregon. I mean, we were in the state for all of four hours before our rental car was broken into, and my knees were healthy and strong for less than 24 hours. I suppose I could have read up more on the thieves of Forest Park, and done some more appropriate training for the undulating and rocky terrain of the Gorge, but I didn't and I learned some valuable lessons.

Going into the race, fitness was approaching mild early season levels that made me confident I could run in the 10 hour range. I had cross trained, mended ankles and toes, hit some good workouts and long runs, and gotten enough rest. It wasn't my best lead up to a race, but it was what I thought was what I needed to be ready to push hard all day.

Race morning came with a 3 AM wake up call, and a 4 AM start time that felt more like 2 AM because despite the large group of energized and talented runners at the front of the pack, I felt tired. Eventually I got into a rhythm and started clicking off a few better miles in the pitch black dark, when my Petzl NAO started giving a warning flicker to let me know that the battery was dying. I had let my head tilt back slightly on the road section, and the lamp was on full blast for 2 miles, which apparently is not good for its battery life. I stumbled along praying for sunrise and made decent time for the first two and a half hours of darkness.

When sunrise came, I was relieved, but it was short lived as I suddenly saw the lead pack 1 switch back above me stopped in their tracks and standing around. We had come to a well flagged dead end, and no one was certain what to do. Yassine came up and thought we were on the right trail, but eventually after climbing and descending the same stretch of trail 3 times, we headed down and took a left at the last trail junction and figured out where the course vandals had tricked us. We re-marked the course and headed on, into the next aid.

I had been running with one water bottle and 3-4 gels for each 9 mile stretch on the course. Though lighter and more efficient than a pack, it wasn't a good call when the wheels started to rattle a bit heading into the turn around. I sat and switched shoes and chewed on a protein bar to get some calories down, and then took off back towards the start.

I didn't have to do much more than maintain a consistent effort, but the ratio of caffeinated to non-caffeinated gels was so high, that I started to bonk hard, regardless of how many gels I ate. The will to finish was still strong, and I tried to fight through the bonk to get to the next aid station ASAP. The feeling of muscles screaming for energy while moving slower and slower wrecked havoc on my legs. The quads felt heavy and my feet felt uncoordinated and slow. I started to get tendinitis in my right knee and hobbled into mile 40, hungry and broken.

I would've quit if I knew what was best for myself, but I was completely focused on finishing and knew if I could push myself out of three more aid stations, I could finish the race. So, after inhaling some corn dippers and ginger ale, I headed west and kept pushing my rapidly deteriorating body along.

Everything hurt on my right knee: the front, the back, and even my shin a bit. I felt like a car losing oil, and it got uglier every mile. The most troubling was at the top of the last climb where I had pushed too hard and couldn't even jog a hundred yards of carpet trail. The course is mostly rocks, roots, twists, and turns, but this was bonafide "take off your shoes" carpet trail... That I couldn't run.

Thus, my finishing time was quite a bit slower than what I had anticipated, but still a finish that left me with a silver lining.

I was banged up for a couple days after, and did little more than walk or sit, which did nothing to nip my problem in the bud (or butt if you keep reading). From my first person perspective, my tendinitis was not simply a matter of not having strong enough stability muscles, but rather a continuation of my glute problem that caused my quads to pull so hard on my knee, that they wore out the tendon.

I've had problems from driving after running causing a knot to form in my glute and keep my right hamstring extra tight. It first became apparent when I went to see my favorite PT, Michael Chamoun who proceeded to engage in some agress PNF on my hamstrings which completely knocked out the knee pain for an entire run.

In hindsight, I would say that my intervals and strength training leading up the race set me up with the power and strength to rip apart my patella tendon due to the fact that I was not getting any effective lengthening of my hamstring after training was causing it to shorten.

I went to Lake Sonoma and watched some great performances play out, and the game I played in my head as I watched was "which are the seasoned ultra runners like me with super tight hamstrings", which coincidentally were runners in the most pain and struggling the most in the last miles of the race. To run well on trails, runners naturally have to develop strong vertical and horizontal body control. This normally creates limited flexibility in the hamstrings over time as the body tries to protect itself. Abnormally, many runners spend several hours a day sitting in a chair that smushes the glutes and hamstrings and shrinks the hip abductors. The end result is not just a shortened stride, but also a high tension environment for the knee.

Over the years, I've relied on youth to complete long arduous races. Being a pure mountain ultra runner for so long has been an enjoyable indulgence, but it hasn't been sustainable in regards to being as competitive as I want to and being healthy. If there's nothing else that this post is about, it's about being healthy and avoiding injury in an world that eventually demands some muscular maintenance.

That said, I'm working on learning Active Isolated Stretching, doing my strength training, and thinking long and hard about my goals for the summer. I feel like I'm on the right track to recovery, but I'm not out of the woods yet (or back in them).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why People Run Ultra Marathons

 What's So Great About Ultra Running?

Though many frequenters of this rarely written blog may already be convinced that ultra running is a worthy and wonderful use of time, this entry isn't written for those already enamored souls. Rather, I'm writing to the confused and bewildered runner of reasonable distances, the non-runner, and the general social critic. If I expound on a particular aspect for too many lines, I can assure you (the non-ultra-enthralled readers) that I'm not trying to convert, brag, mentally subdue, or intensify your contempt for said activity, but rather give you a better perspective on why something so hard grabs more people each year and holds on to them for many long miles. So, without further adieu..

1) The Sport is More Competitive Than Ever
Yes, there still are numerous small ultras that have little competition, but there are more true "pinnacles of human achievement" in the big races. What I mean by this, is that in Western States, Hardrock, UTMB, North Face 50, and other top races; there are performances being run that won't be ridiculously trumped by new elite runners. The reason being is that these champions today are the perfect blend of good form, endurance, intelligence, talent, and courage. The saying at these races has gone from "they won because no one faster showed up" to "they won because they were the best".

These runners at the front of the biggest races have marathon PR's in the 2:15-2:40 range, which is plenty of speed for the task at hand. The reason why I make this claim, and the one above, is that ultra running's breath of challenges allows for more of these sub-professional marathon runners to excel in more ways than just sheer efficiency of stride.

The greatest ultra runner on the planet, Kilian Jornet isn't built for speed on the roads. His quads are massive, his stride is short, and he's most efficient in steep and technical terrain. Put him on the roads next to Ryan Hall, and he might actually take two steps for each one of Ryan Hall's giant 4:48/mi strides (I don't actually know that, I'm just speculating with a good amount of confidence). The point is, that the sport demands more than just a gifted stride. It demands long days training in the mountains, spot on nutrition, courage to weather storms of the physical and mental variety, technical footwork, big lungs, strong quads, copious amounts of endurance, route finding, a deep well of competitive aspiration, and patience to deal with all the pain, injuries, setbacks and moments of being utterly lost.

The competitive aspect also plays to the fact that there are way more 2nd tier marathon runners that are good candidates for the sport. If someone can run a 2:30 marathon, they can potentially win Western States but they can't even get in the elite wave at Chicago. If you're tuning in to watch Chicago, you're only going to see really 5 people with a shot of winning in a race of 40,000+ people, because those are the 5 people born with the right pedigree. There are hundreds of runners trying to work to a level of sub 2:10, doing the same 100+ mile weeks, mile repeats, etc. etc. but only a handful even have a chance. Meanwhile, those hundreds of runners can grab a water bottle, do the hard training, study a few ultra articles, show up at a 50 mile race, and pull off a win.

What this means is that winning an ultra isn't like getting a gold star in 2nd grade. It's like studying for years and publishing a PHD thesis on running. Think of it as a physical statement about everything you know about pushing your body for long periods in harsh conditions among competitive people, and this is essentially what a 100 mile race is. That competition makes the typical training and planning cycle for big races, so much more involved, challenging, and rewarding. It's a real community with meaningful races, and far more than just the town weirdos hiking around the woods (but sometimes it is that too).

2) Competition Isn't the Most Important Thing in the Sport

Somehow, the majority of ultra runners get up everyday and run for the sheer joy of being outside and getting their endorphin fix. Pam Smith won Western States in 2013 and noted that she never was motivated to win, just to run the race as hard as she possibly could. Most champions, mid packers, and back of the packers share this sentiment (without any type of conspiracy to deceive the general public). Beating someone isn't enough of a motivation to be out running for hours and hours, but trying to run a tough course as fast as you can is a sustainable motivation.

If winning was everything, the best runners in the sport would make the most money and be the most famous. However, winning is far from a simple barbaric "I conquered the course and everyone on it" idea, and it's not the most impressive story in a race. In other words, stories mean more than numbers to ultra runners. The best stories are the end result of a indulgence of the mind, body, and soul. The runners that find and share that indulgence most eloquently, directly, and effectively, invigorate a powerful emotion in anyone who's had a momentary taste of that special flow. Those runners are the most exciting and interesting regardless of whether they win the race or not.

Ultrarunning centers itself on the golden feeling of being intensely happy. If you're an elite runner hammering out the last miles of a race to hold onto a win, you feel the exact same feeling as the last runner in the race who is running as hard as possible to finish below the race cutoffs. Competition serves as a vehicle to get to the happy place, a reason to push yourself to a limit that means something, but not a definition of who you are.

These ideas are why the sport is so culturally rich. Hanging out at a race may entail some neurotic behavior from runners, but most of the time you'll hear the classic "I'm feeling good!" roll off runners tongues because that's what they're there for. So, though there's more competition than ever, the vast majority of runners haven't stopped running for the pure euphoria of indulgent flow.

3) The Sport's Top Runners are Constantly Humanized

It's tough to get any top runner to seriously say something cocky and confident. You might hear "yeah I want to win" but more of the conversation sounds like "I'm going to listen to my body" or "I just have to focus on my race" and hear more of a conservative tactical plan. Perhaps this lack of pure, brazen bravado doesn't sell very well to the masses, but it's indicativce of how hard it is to really develop an serious ego in the sport.

The fact is that comfort is denied for long periods of time which makes any sort of entitled ego very hard to maintain. Additionally, a winning streak in the top races is really, really hard to sustain. The feeling of soreness all over, a noticeable limp, and sheer exhaustion make even a post victory celebration a humbling experience if stairs or confined spaces are involved.

Thus, a winner or a last place finisher aren't so different when it all comes down to it. Both understand the limits of their body, and both have been humbled by the course. Any ego in between races is nervousness and insecurity about the upcoming challenge more than confidence about a runner's ability. Genuine ego about being "the greatest ever" or "unstoppable" just isn't real.

4) People Care About Each Other

Most races require 2-20 people supporting every runner in the actual race. At a smaller race, it might only take a couple people along the way to get a runner to the finish, but at bigger races, there's literally an army of volunteers, crews, and pacers, spread out with a common mission of getting everyone to the finish the race as best as they can. The volunteers usually aren't conscripts on the course for ulterior motives, but rather genuine race fans out to have a good time.

It's a special feeling to be apart of something so crazy and audacious when you stop and think about it. You're helping a person, with a thoroughly hard goal, sustain themselves all day and all night long. If you are at an aid station, you are apart of tons of inspiring stories of memorable days in strangers' and friends' lives.

On the course, runners appreciate the camaraderie of the experience, and form strong bonds during and after the race. For some runners, the race can sometimes be too difficult to spare any breath to talk, so the post race experience is effectively a roaring reunion. Runners may not see each other for months or years at a time, but once they get back together, it's tough to tell that they live in different states or countries because the common bond of the sport is so strong.

5) It's Fun

This is the toughest to explain, but probably the biggest attraction to the sport. Any other dignified and eloquent explanation of why we run besides "to have fun" is just an attempt to split hairs about different ways and means of fun. The truth is, running up a steep hill really produces a lot of endorphins, and seeing how fast you can do it is interesting and intriguing because no run is ever the same as another. The rush of a good downhill isn't always guaranteed, but it's often so memorable and enjoyable, that you're drawn back to the same trail hundreds of times to get back to that distinct experience.

I still remember racing as hard as I could with Ruperto at mile 71 in the 2013 Angeles Crest 100 mile. It isn't likely that the same moment will ever happen again, but it's something I look forward to in future races because it was such an amazing adrenaline rush. It's hard to explain why something so painful and nerve-racking is so fun, but I think it's something so unique, that you can't find it anywhere else in life.

6) The Trail is Addictive and the Appetite for Life Increases

If you go out of your way to get on the trail and cut your teeth in the steep terrain that burns calves and destroys quads, trip over thousands of rocks that buckle ankles, and weather all the storms and burning heat, then your motivation and ideals start to change permanently. Not everyone gets hooked, but a lot of runners that come in and feel that pure flow loose motivation for any other flow. If there was anything more alluring, then the sport would shrink, but for the time being, it's something special.

When something is really addictive, it's something that changes behavior drastically. If the motive is for flow in the sport, and the sport resembles life so much, then it also commonly translates to flow in life. Personally, as I've grown up in the sport I've changed and matured in response to the demands and rewards of the sport. I've become a better planer, a more attentive boyfriend, a detail oriented engineer, a harder worker, a more patient human, a more passionate runner, and a resident of the mountains.

Maybe this blog might sound like more of the same illogical, pointless ultra jargon (and it probably is), but it isn't any less truthful from the objective position that I attempt to stand in.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Post SOB 100k

The best intentions don't matter much in ultra running, and a course doesn't have any sympathy for a human body. About 2 weeks before the race I had stubbed my toe so badly, that I couldn't run on it for a couple days. Then when I started running again, I stubbed it again, and then again. I rushed through a bit more training focusing on climbing,   hoping it would quiet down for the race.

On race morning, I went out a little conservative, holding a judicious pace up the long climb to Corral. I felt good, and took off down the Backbone trail reeling in Guillaume and Seth. Things seemed to be going alright, but as I hit technical patches of trail, my toe winced and caused me to run on the sides of my feet. So, when I hit a fateful piece of rutted out sandstone before Encinal Road, I rolled it damn good, a good 160 degree sprain.

Photo by Billy Yang

To put it in perspective, being a forefoot runner and trying to avoid you big toe is like being a pianist and not using your index finger. You can get by, but you're dramatically held back. So, one might say that this toe injury was the root cause of my ankle sprain today.. But, a quality audit would proceed with the 5-Why statement and then ask, why did I stub my toe?

On the day it happened, I was tired and flustered, and trying to fake a good 20 mile run. Asking why again, I'd have to come out and say that I wasn't focusing enough on my running, and asking why again, I'd say I was taking it for granted. I was achieving fitness last spring that seemed to be indicative of advancement to the best fitness of my life. The kind of abilities that I was proving real talent and prowess to myself.

However, training is like a race, and no one gets points or trophies for being the first to the top of a climb (okay, there are KOM purses, but they're dumb, so stop doing that RD's). So, if I had the endurance to run all day after running 5 hundred mile weeks, then where was the strength training to make my knees tougher, the speed work to make me for efficient in the flats, the rolling and stretching to avoid injuries. Instead, I kept my head down and kept running more endurance miles to the point that my adrenals stopped caring (they were literally like "meh" for the first 50 miles of the biggest race of my life).

I think once I over-trained, I lost momentum and stop trying to innovate and figure out ways to keep going fast. To be perfectly honest, becoming a better runner through running a lot of miles is like painting a picture with just a ton of paint. Yeah, you can paint a picture, but it's going to turn brown. I think initially it's part of the most obvious equation that makes new ultra runners good from the outset. After that, the miles take their toll and they cause a uphill stride to be a little softer, turnover a little slower, and a downhill to be a little more cautious.

For me at 28 years old, 7 years in the sport, 40+ ultras, 50,000+ miles on my legs, I'm not exactly ready to retire and accept injuries. Sure, it makes sense why stuff happens when I'm tired or not focused, but it's not enough to convince me that I won't set much more PR's.

With that, I'm going to bed, getting up, cross training, working on a training plan, and moving on. Motivated.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pre-Sean O'Brien 100k

Tomorrow is the first race in several months, and it's been very productive to step away from racing for a bit.

I found myself exhausted after this summer, and it seemed like I couldn't get my body to maintain energy levels to train, or mental confidence to believe in my running. If I lived somewhere with an early or particularly brutal winter, it might have gone by faster, but instead I took a month off, and then ran here and there in the beautiful Southern California fall without getting that good runner's high for weeks at a time.

Luckily for my racing aspirations, I found a bit of rhythm in the middle of December, and then took a few days easy during Christmas to begin to capitalize on some new energy and confidence. The lead up to tomorrow's race hasn't been overly extensive, but it's been sufficient to get me to the starting line with some confidence in a few key workouts that got faster each week.

Whatever happens tomorrow, be it great or mediocre, it's all apart of building a more sound and balanced 2015 that lets me reach my true potential in the summer. My humbled goal is a year without any loss of momentum towards a strong performance at UTMB.

Oh yeah, it snows in Southern California.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Value of Rest and Feel

After a generous amount of good running from December 2013 to August 2014, the body finally demanded a long, hard rest.

The thought of how badly I needed a rest really hit home when I was listening to Nick Nudell (head race medic) at the AC race briefing describe the effect of running on kidneys. He explained that we were guaranteed to have some amount of blood in our urine after jarring our kidneys for 50+ miles of mountainous trails. My mind quickly wandered to all those miles I'd done in just the last few months; the strongest thought was the feeling of going out for a 25 mile run on a Sunday night to notch another 100 mile week. I can feel the distinct ache of every step contrasted with the intense relief of finishing at the car. The craving for the bucket seat of my car like was as strong as an exhausted swimmer reaching for the wall.

On several occasions, I had run in Santa Monica Mountains one morning, and again in the Sierra Nevada's 10-24 hours later. The traveling, work, and non-stop running eventually wore out my body and my will to wake up and seek out my flow. Having spent the last 3 months running little to no miles, I really have started to get why things didn't go as well at Western States and Angeles Crest.

Spent, 2014 AC100 Finish, Photo by Alli Castillo Potrekus

I believe it was some time in the middle of May when I hit a tipping point in training: I was drawn more to the post race hotel room, than the race itself. This was a big problem because I had two very easy step back weeks, and I felt guilty about them. So, illogically (but logically at the time) I ran 120 miles for my peak week, and then another 100 mile week. It was like I was a home owner upside down on a mortgage, but too far into the investment to throw it away. It's something that dominated my mind and sent me into the a very critical view of ultrarunning for months.

To be perfectly honest, there were a good 40 miles at Western States and Angeles Crest that I hated running. I was thinking like those people that spend so much time on couches, that they start to look like couches. Those people that ridicule runners for ruining their knees, wrecking their bodies, and accusing the sport of being some barbaric war of attrition for idiots. I would be lying if I wasn't dreaming of hanging up my shoes for good at the bottom of Volcano Canyon and Winter Creek.

Rob Krar, Leadville, Photo from Denver Post

Rob Krar taking three hundred mile wins this summer is a powerful contrast. He was confident and in control of his training, and when he had to summon great efforts on Cal Street, Sugar Loaf, and Steamboat at 3am, he had the energy and strength to do so decidedly. It wasn't like he got lucky or winged anything, he did his homework working on his weaknesses, doing his equalizers, running hard workouts, resting when he needed it, and hammering it home when the moment of truth came.

Running by feel is something that is a bit of an overused and under appreciated term among top runners. Feel means something when you've been to your limits and injured yourself. The little physical and mental hints come across loud and clear like a traffic signal. If you've experienced all the bad moments and realize that they don't always have to be backed up by technical numbers like HR and training mileage (mine were both low in May), then you're experienced enough and talented enough to run by feel.

It's a beautiful thing to be able to breathe and hear your soul speak to your mind, but it's not something a coach can get many runners to do. I think this is the reason over training is so strongly discouraged by coaches that don't want to burn out athletes: there's not always a good way to pick up on the warning signs under the layers of runner insecurities (which are some of the thickest insecurities known to mankind). When a runner writes "Easy run" in their log after a run at 6:50 pace, they're throwing insecurities up to explain that they're capable of going faster, but they're not, and it was "easy" even though their real easy pace is 9+ min/mi. So, one can understand how a coach can get frustrated with athletes that want to always project an ease of everything they do in training, and potentially ignore obvious warning signs. Over training might as well be the devil, and something to constantly scorn upon.

That said, I'm glad all this happened this year, and I got more in touch with my body. It took a few months to get back to it, but this Sunday as I climbed to the top of the Acorn trail in a mediocre 49 minutes from town, I felt really good and happy to be gasping for breath. The joy of getting a rush from hammering a climb was so invigorating that I'm going to go do it again tomorrow. And so, with that.. I'm back in training for 2015 because the stoke to get out and fly over the dirt feels 100 times better than the thought of a lazy day on a couch.

Enjoy this Vacationer Mix, it's a good one for workouts:

Monday, August 18, 2014

2014 Angeles Crest 100 Recap

“I’m a lover and a fighter
A worker and a writer
I am a dreamer, woken up by fits of rage”
- The Show Ponies “Choppin’ Wood”
Relief in Altadena, Photo provided by Rony Sanchez
When I think about the Angeles Crest 100, there’s this inevitable emotional trail that my mind starts to wander down. I have confidence that my body is capable of a great performance, but I also have the stress of repeatedly losing control of the situation by being too focused on chasing (relatively) high speed splits on each section. Essentially, I love the potential that’s laid out for a great performance each time I line up to race it, but I hate the way it consumes me and takes me away from thoughtful and cognizant decisions.
So when I found myself galloping along the PCT above Wrightwood and throwing up my breakfast from sheer joy and excitement to be in the moment, I had to stop and curse the damn course for rattling me loose so early at mile 6. I wasn’t hungry, and there really wasn’t a pressing need to be attached to my breakfast, so I wasn’t too torn up about it. Chris Price caught up and we ran with Jorge who was equally concerned about maintaining a consistent pace and not getting caught up in the excitement of early splits.

The strange thing about AC is that though your body might warn you about your true effort levels being higher than your perceived effort levels, the trail encourages you on and distracts you from hearing its warning signs. The regurgitation was a warning to focus on my stomach first, yet it would take until mile 47 to remember to do exactly what worked last year.

With Pringles at Inspiration Point, Photo by Sally McRae
So, I ran along at a good pace with Chris, cruising along the PCT to Inspiration Point to make sure I hit the unnecessary 1:33 to mile 9.3. I didn’t feel hungry because we were running well, but I made sure to get 2 gels down after inspiration point on the way to Vincent Gap (mi13.7).

Vincent Gap, Photo by Jack Rosenfeld
I’d had a good run up Baden-Powell three weeks before, but that was when I was fresh and fed. However this time, it was 7:11AM, I’d slept poorly, ate 2 gels, ran 13.7 miles, and started to second guess myself. So, I ran very slowly (with a couple hiking breaks) up the lazy switchbacks to the top. A few folks passed me, and I felt dumb, but I started taking in more calories and resetting my body. The penalty was a few minutes at the top, but I was ready to reel in the leaders.
It’s important to enjoy as much of the course as you can, and I had no problem enjoying myself on the scenic and fast terrain down to Islip (mi26). I was 8 minutes behind my goal CR splits, but I was focused on being present and continuing on strong.
With Matt, Monica, and Matt at Islip, photo by Kyle Robinson

My crew was caught off guard as I called audibles to change plans, but I got out with what I needed to reel in the leaders (Chris, Jorge, Guillaume, and Michele) a little closer over Mt. Williamson. It was humid and warm, but I enjoyed myself again on the descent and came in to Eagle’s Roost (mi30) in the driver’s seat of my race.

Rapid Cooling, Photo by Hillary Coe
Everything I needed was already laid out and I quickly swapped shoes into my 1400’s for the flatter terrain ahead. I chugged down my protein drink and felt heavy with my pack, ice bandana, and full bladder, but it was necessary to catch up to the lead pack on the climb. Sure enough, I couldn’t see anyone on the downhill, but on the climb out of Cooper Canyon, I caught Chris and Michele near the bathroom and then Guillaume and Jorge a minute later on the PCT climb around to the north rim of the canyon.

Flowing with the Course, photo by Kara Clark
I almost threw up again, but I held my composure and mixed in walking and running to reach Cloudburst (mi37) in first, now 30 minutes behind my goal race. My splits were slower than last year and my thoughts drifted from CR to a low 18 hour finish.

Running out of Cooper, Photo by Hillary Coe
Cloudburst Aid, Photo by Anibal Corsi
My crew sprang into action again, and I felt a boost from their energy and the crowd cheering for me. This time I didn’t drink much protein drink, opting instead for a quicker pace over to Three Points. Last year, I had trouble with breathing in the Purple Poodle, and in my pre-race visualizations, I had planned on wearing a dust mask to save myself from the hypoxic-asthmatic-allergic –race robbing-experience of last year. The weather was cooler, and the scent wasn’t thick in the air, but I still slid the mask on each time I ran past a patch of the nasty stuff.

Into Three Points, Photo by Peter McKinney
All this focus on Poodle made me forget about how hard I was in fact running, and how far I had come. In hindsight, the obvious action item wasn’t to rush out of the aid station with caffeine and sugar, but rather a little bit of protein mix that would keep me smoothly converting carbohydrates in my stomach like I had from Eagle’s Roost to Three Points (mi42). A mere 10 minutes of gentle running to let the Recovery drink do its work was worth a good 90 minutes. Yet, there I was focusing on trying to race like I was finishing a 50k.
Eventually I got to the middle of the section and started to bonk repeatedly. I would take down a gel, and then feel hungry in 5 minutes. I was out of luck because all I had left was a PB&J bar that was much thicker and tougher on my stomach than the recovery drink. I went to the bathroom, ate it, walked, and gingerly ran up the climb to Mt. Hilyer (mi49).
I realized I needed my protein stat, and took in 3 cups of broth with ice along with a Ginger Ale. Foolishly, I threw in a salt and the overly salty mixture came back out on the trail after 50 yards. I knew puking usually gave me a 30 minute adrenaline window to run before bonking again, so I took it and made my way down to Chilao. The tiny bump in the trail by Horse Flats had me walking, and I knew I was running dangerously low on fuel again.

Into Chilao, Photo by Hillary Coe
At Chilao (mi52), I expected to get caught by Guillaume or Chris. Instead, I saw Chris in casual clothes (his heart was racing too fast, so he had dropped) and Guillaume was nowhere to be seen (still 10 minutes behind). I revised my race strategy to favor the recovery drink, and it started to help me build back more energy as I left Chilao and started running more miles with my pacer, Peter.
As good as it was to share some miles with a friend, I couldn’t deny the overall exhaustion in my body as we grinded up to Shortcut Saddle (mi59). Unlike last year when I was moving slow because I couldn’t breathe, this year I was moving slow because my body was really tired and sore. I remember the distinct thought “wow, this feels a lot worse than mile 59.. this feels like 89.” I had tried to blend recovery and taper from Western States and maintain some sort of endurance from my training during the spring, but the ache in my right knee, the weakness in my quads, and the exhaustion kept my turnover flat and slow.

Approaching Shortcut Saddle with Peter Photo by Hillary Coe
I focused my crew on getting my recovery drink ready for the 15 miles to Chantry, but they had a hard time keeping track of all my requests. We got passed at the end of the aid station by an exuberant Guillaume as I waited for my bottles to get filled up. Finally we were off, and I worked to reel in Guillaume and share a kindred mile with him talking about the race thus far.
Guillaume was psyched and I was happy for him. I openly admitted that I couldn’t take any more risks to try to win the race, but I motivated to get to the finish ASAP where I could sit down freely and partake in luxuries like solid food and not running. Guillaume pulled away, and I started to drop Peter (who was running 15 more miles than he originally signed up for). I ran alone for a few moments until Ruperto ran flying by with his pacer pushing him on. The windy and open fire road exposed the scene unfolding below me: both Ruperto and Guillaume were speeding up, but Ruperto was slowly reeling in Guillaume. The recovery drink started to do it’s job and I got back up to speed. I reeled Guillaume back in and I cheered him on to keep eating to stay within striking distance of Ruperto. Unfortunately, I would later learn that he had more issues (like me) besides just eating enough.

Team Unicorn Presents: Adventures at AC100 from peter_in_la on Vimeo.

I hiked and ran up the perfectly graded fire road to Newcomb Saddle. I normally loved this area of the course because it was shaded and led to the first views of the city, but today I just wanted to get through it. I arrived at mi 68 just 3 minutes after Ruperto had left, but I was adamant about keeping my intake of recovery drink going. The descent into Santa Anita Canyon was lonely but I kept moving (except for a bathroom break).

Chantry. Photo by Alex Suchey
At Chantry (mi 75) I was now 7 minutes behind Ruperto, but all I could think about was doing whatever it took to finish (eat, drink, pace myself). Leaving with Matt, I listened to his stories and tried to keep my mind off the pain in my knees and exhaustion throughout my body. After running casually quick over the last 25 all year, I was at the polar opposite: labored and slow. The climb up Winter Creek was painfully slow (something that I should acknowledge is normal for everyone at AC), and it felt awful compared to last year when I ran strong and hard to keep Ruperto at bay.

I gave myself a couple minutes at the bench, and Guillaume came marching by with Christophe. I encouraged him on, and labored up the last few switchbacks to the Toll Road. “Just one last drawn out climb left, I can do this” I optimistically said to Matt. Instead, the downhill beat my body down, and I rolled downhill like a stubborn rock that has just enough momentum to slowly continue.
Hearing I was 33 Minutes behind Ruperto sounded awful, but I was more excited about the fact that I only had two aid stations to go at Idlehour (mi82). We refueled in the softly falling rain, and made our way into the canyon. It’s intense darkness reminded me of the first time I ran AC in 2010: OVERWHELMING. There’s something to be said for the layout of the course adding a distinctly tough emotional aspect. It’s more than just physically challenging when you’re vulnerable and tired and have to to head uphill and into the darkness instead of downhill and toward the light.
Matt and I talked about great ultra runners, and how somehow they found ways to keep everything together. It motivated me to try and get myself pulled back together, so I kept gulping my protein drink and slurping down gels as I trudged slowly through the canyon. We finally ran the last half mile out of the canyon in 4th place behind Guillaume and Michele who had passed me in the bottom of the canyon. Guillaume was in the Sam Merrill aid station (mi89) getting ready to leave when I arrived. He said his quad was done and he was going to have to walk to the finish, but he still hobbled out of the aid ahead of me determined to do his very best.
I refueled and had a rough time getting into gear leaving the aid station. We finally started running and pulled my body down the Sam Merrill trail. I was like a wheel barrow: mobile on my left leg, stiff on my right leg, and running with an awkward transition from left to right as we moved downhill. We finally caught up to Guillaume just before the Lake Avenue Junction with 8 miles to go. Later I would find out that the last 8 miles would take Guillaume a full 2 hours longer than me due to his rapidly deteriorating quad.
Matt and I saw lights chasing us, and the muscle memory from running the Sunset Trail so many times finally paid off as I got into gear pushing away from the chasing lights of 4th place Randy Vander Tuig. We took a full minute in Millard (mi96) to get down some broth and soda for the last 4.5 miles to Loma Alta.
Randy was still within striking distance, and his presence kept me excited enough to run the Arroyo well enough to minimize the pain. The relief of finally leaving the single track behind and hitting pavement was the sweetest feeling of my night. I ran the last 25 a full 80 minutes slower than last year (70 minutes slower than Ruperto), but I was proud of my resolve to pull my haggard body to the finish line, and earn a proper blood and guts AC100 finish.

20:41 Photo by Alli Castillo Potrekus
 It was in imperfect day, but I was grateful for my crews support and the entire field giving their best effort. Ruperto won the race on his 8th try, and it was awesome to see his efforts over the years come to fruition. All the work that the race family put it was apparent. The energy level at the race was strong and positive, which is the way it should be for a course of its caliber.

The RD's, Photo by Rene Auguilar
To run as fast as possible at WS and AC takes a bit more dialed in training and also a bit of acceptance of the limited success. Five weeks seems like enough time on paper, but it really felt like this frustrating gap of not enough recovery and too much time to let endurance lapse from pre-WS training. For me, the way I ran and fought to finish strong at WS severely limited the amount of risks I could take and get away with at AC. Simply put, there’s only so much 100 mile magic you can pull out in a few months. If I had accepted my bad day at States more complacently and came in rested, I would have had more in me to fight for another win.
One thought that stuck with me in the humbling late night hours in Idlehour, was how I hadn’t had a break from running since December of 2012. I’m taking that break right now and re-evaluating everything about how my summer went, and what I want to do for the next 12 months. I think I’ve identified a genuine risk of overtraining, and a distinct need for more climbing power to help me race smoother through ultras.
Avoiding coming over trained is a popular talking point in ultra running, and the specific reason is that the body is going to be asked to absorb a tremendous amount of shock and stress. Any weakness, small injury, lattice tear line, etc. is exacerbated somewhere between mile 30 and 100. Essentially, it’s very much like a car crash: though you might want to hold on tight and fight it, all you really can do is absorb it efficiently. You have to take punches and keep moving. So, in English: I have to be more patient when I get to rough points in training. I can’t ignore speedwork and hill intervals, and I can’t let myself overindulge in long slow runs or neurotic mileage goals when my body is exhausted.
As I’m taking this month-ish off from running, I’m realizing that all this was not in vain. All my various adrenal/respiratory/muscular-tory/etc. systems absorbed a lot this year. I think going forward it allows me to worry less about my endurance abilities and focus more on my speed. It might seem like one could argue my bloody end at AC was indicative of a need for more mileage. Honestly, I wish I had done less mileage and avoided allowing for any nagging injuries a chance to come back. This is the big motivation behind taking time off right now: close up as many injuries as possible and give me a blank canvas to start training on in mid-September rather than an inadequate one week recovery.
I’m thankful for this experience. It’s actually really positive to be in that vulnerable state for so many miles and to be humbled again to motivate sincere training each year. As well as things went last year, I didn’t admit to really any mistakes. This year, I have a much longer confession..

At Bishop, running too much. Photo by Geoff Cordner
Our sport is cyclical: when you start competing, there’s a bit of beginners luck afforded to rookies: an ability to go into reserves, to make mistakes and keep moving. After a few years, there’s a bit more experience in utilizing different tactics to squeeze more fast miles out of the body, but that also comes with the ability to take it to deeper places of exhaustion and injury. The cycle comes full circle with veterans learning when to push and when to rest.
Just about everyone in the sport is after finding their limits, which means that this unfortunate low point in the cycle is unavoidable. It might be public or it might be secretive, but everyone goes through an “oh shit” moment when they realize they’ve done too much. It can be constructive with a cathartic realization, or it can be indicative of a destructive addiction with nature, adrenaline, physique, or socializing.
I couldn’t say no to a trip to New Hampshire two weeks after AC to run the Presidential Traverse, and sure enough my knees felt awful in the technical terrain. It was positive though because it reinforced my plans to take a solid month off from training. I know exactly what it felt like to run fast and long in early April, how frustratingly exhausted I was in May, the anger I felt with my body not responding at States, and the disappointment in running AC slower than last year. There is ample fuel for the proper fire.

"Enjoy when you can, endure when you must"

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pre-AC Preview 2014

The 2014 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run is set to be one of the most exciting editions of the race in several years.

The course conditions are the best they've been since the fire, and I can state first hand that the trail has no "bad sections" and very few rough miles (of course, the trail isn't easy, it's just in relatively good shape). The weather might get a little warm, but breezes should kick in. Most important of all, the field of runners assembled is truly the best in Southern California at their peak fitness and focus for the year. 

Angeles Crest has been called the Western States of SoCal, and I have to agree with that in the regard that the ultra community really comes together to support runners and their goals of endurance. The race contrasts the landscape around the mountain of 10+ million laid back people. On August 2nd at 4:45 AM in Wrightwood, it's hard to find runners that look relaxed or sleepy (except Chris Price, but he always looks that way). The racers, crews, and volunteers take the day very seriously in hopes of carving out a piece of legendary Angeles Crest glory: a win, a silver buckle, a finish, or just a damn good war story for Sunday afternoon.

That said, all the main competitors this year are going to be laying it on the line. Here's the breakdown:

Chris Price: 

In all the years I've known Chris, we've rarely seen eye to eye on anything: Maximalism vs. Minimalism, high mileage training, pacing strategies, which race is the best, doing the JMT 10 days before Hardrock, clothing styles, which cheap beer is the best, etc. etc. However, this year, we're both honing in on AC. We've been training in the San Gabes for a few years now, and the challenging nature of the mountains has pushed us to get in the best shape of our lives. Though Chris struggled at Western States, he still carved out a sub 17 hour finish. Though that's not quite good enough for top 10 on today's stage, but it still is something telling of great potential. Using the 2 hour estimate for WS to AC, if Chris has another off day, he's still looking at a sub 19 hour. However if the cards line up right for Chris, he has the fitness to run below 18 hours. Chris is going to have to be pushed by someone else though to motivate him to run that fast (possibly me). Chris is a big guy with big shoes, that can open up on the downhills. The only thing we'll disagree on this year, is what time we'll get to Chantry.

Guillaume Calmette:

Having run many of Guillaume's volumous training miles with him this year, I can say without a doubt that the Frenchman is nearly bulletproof. When you run 170 miles in 7 days or 600+ miles in a month, you produce insane amounts of endorphins, adrenaline, and testosterone that challenge the very limits of the human body. The big question is whether you can do it on race day. If we could race 100 milers more often and not deal with the post race soreness and injury, I think Guillaume would start to show an undeniable trend of tough, blood and guts, smart, fast running. Unfortunately, you can't really run a 100 every month and compete at a very high level. So, on race day, it's not merely a test of how well Guillaume is trained, but how well he learns from mistakes and makes adjustments on the fly. He's still very young in the sport, and he has to have the courage to run up front and keep all his variables together. If he keeps his stomach happy, his body cool, and doesn't roll and ankle, he can be a threat past Chilao (mi 52).

Jorge Pacecho:

Jorge spends so much time on the course, that he can run the entire course blind folded and never trip on a rock or miss a turn. Earlier this year, the veteran struggled with injuries, but his fitness is incredible with a 1:11 FKT on the Mount Wilson Trail (6.7 mi, 4800ft+). Jorge has been unrelenting in his assault on the course record in the past years which has caused DNF's and epic blowouts. The untold story of Jorge's efforts over the past few years, is that he has been training better than anyone else in the country, but has had bad luck with his race day nutrition and energy. Jorge knows that the course record is incredibly tough, but he never waivers in his yearly assault. As a competitor, I have to admit that I'm always nervous in any race that Jorge shows up to because he has the talent to destroy the entire field. If Jorge finds good luck in his stomach, I won't be suprised if he breaks the record.

Ruperto Romero:

Ruperto shows an amazing level of toughness on only one day each year. He doesn't care much for other races, but when he lines up in Wrightwood, there's nothing else he wants to do but run well. I could see him taking the win on account of his efficiency, toughness, and determination. However, there's a few runners this year that will likely have breakout performances and run below 19 meaning that Ruperto will have to take more risks to stay within striking distance. One important thing to remember is that like Jorge, his power to weight ratio is very high meaning that he can save a lot of energy early on if he paces himself well and pushes hard at the end.

Erik Schulte:

Erik lives at the base of the San Gabriels and gets to experience a bit of awesome singletrack every day. The home course advantage will play to his favor if he can dial in his pacing and nutrition and have a good day. This is much easier said than done early in an ultra career because many mistakes just have to be made to feel out an ideal equation. If Erik finds his x factor on race day, he's capable of running a great rookie time.

Ricardo Ramirez:

Ricardo is the kind of guy that has a huge engine for running fast, but still needs to piece together the rest of his chasis. His road running PR's are super stout, and he can climb remarkably fast. The thing about AC is that there's a handful of technical sections, so he's going to have to be careful through those sections and also focus on maintaining his stomach while running further than he ever has before.

Michele Graglia:
There's just some people that are naturally talented, and Michele would have to be the most talented at looking good and running fast. Michele ran 2:44 up Mt. Whitney, and led most of the SD100 this year before getting lost. What does that mean on Saturday? It means he's capable of running really well and being very photogenic.

And then there's this guy:

Unlike Chris, I will rate myself. I have had some of the best training in my life this year, but I overdid it a bit and ended up exhausting my energy reserves at WS and was zapped by Robinson Flat. The thing about my training is that it's definitely carved my body into a more efficient long distance runner, and the remanents are undeniable on post Western States training runs. Running 24 miles from Vincent to Cloudburst, I was comfortably running my goal race pace or faster which is what I would want 2 weeks out, regardless of whether I had ran States or not. I feel ready to step into the arena and let the CR pace come to me naturally early on (unlike previous years). If something is a little off in the first 37, I'm more confident that taking the time hit is worth it to ensure I can open up my stride at Cloudburst and run the CR pace to Chantry. So, whatever the time defecit from Cooper Canyon's extra 1.2 mi (and any other problems in the first 30), I'm sure that if I can come into Chantry before 5:40 PM, I have a shot to chase down the ghost with a big push in the last 25. This is all dependant though on having a good day, and having the energy that I was lacking at States. In the event of another bad day, I'll still run smart and try to salvage a strong time because I love the course so much. I'm going to run anything from 17-24 hours, and I'm going to fight hard for the best time I can run on race day.  

Best of Luck to All Runners!