Sunday, September 20, 2015

UTMB 170k

Pre-Race Build Up 
I would describe my mental approach to and through UTMB as a roller coaster of mind and body:

In January, a large respect for the challenge ahead of racing in a foreign country and admittance of fear for not understanding the terrain and unique challenges.

In February, a hope to race another U.S. 100 miler to take off any expectation for an optimal race in Europe. I race Sean O'Brien with a body that wasn't ready, and I couldn't finish the race after a sharp ankle sprain 10 miles in.

In March, an acceptance of UTMB being the sole goal, and realizing my opportunity before me. To be honest, the acceptance of it as my "A race" was due to lingering OTS issues and fatigue through the winter that kept me from being able to race well in early season Western States qualifiers. Eventually though my mind came around full circle to accepting the benefits of not over racing this year.

In April and May, a steady increase of my mileage and workouts in hopes of peaking in August. A string of consistent workouts and enjoyable runs let me start to believe OTS was disappearing.

In June, a tangible confidence in my abilities to race hard in August, with a certain and highly present joy.

In July, a soleus injury that shook my confidence and limited my mileage for weeks. Before the month ended, I completed the Speedgoat 50k, which was an accomplishment for my psyche and durability. It was at least an hour slower than it should've gone, but I wasn't bitter about it after spending weeks wondering how I was going to board a plane to Europe with a bum soleus.

In August, a couple of long test runs before heading over to Europe. My fitness was clearly not what it was in May, but the legs did move with determined consistency. I went to Europe and hiked with Katie, enjoying the experience as the days counted down to the race. Considering the injury and demands of the race, it took everything I had to finish the race.

Every race in the world has its fair share of hype, excitement, and general hysteria. UTMB though is a whole other imaginary world where runners are super stars. It features the French competitiveness that boarders on "do or die patriotism" that shows up in the theme music of the race: Vangelis - Conquest of Paradise. If you listen to it echoing through the streets of Chamonix, with 2500 runners amped up and ready to go, you get a distinct feeling of the sanctity and importance of your sole mission: to attack UTMB as hard and bravely as possible..

So, there's the best runners in all of France (which is already a very competitive and well organized mountain running country) going out as hard as they can, along with the Spaniards that have some of the best endurance talent in the world, the Scandinavians that have some of the strongest legs in the sport, the Italians that can run and chat extremely fast, the Germans and Swiss that work the hardest of anyone, the Argentinians that hit on my girlfriend, the fiercely proud Asians that walk with their chests puffed out and UTMB gear prominently adorned, and the Americans that don't want to take things too seriously, but secretly are going out a little hard because we're Americans and we're a big deal. If you brought only the feisty, athletic, proud and competitive people of all the first world nations to the UN, you would have the UTMB field.

Go! Photo by Katie DeSplinter

The Start

As we took off through the streets of Chamonix, I felt like I was running with the bulls. I was trying to be mellow and low key all day, but the pre-race atmosphere was exhausting to endure before the gun went off. I put my legs in a low gear as we headed over the first climb to St. Gervais, but it seemed like everyone else was still rather energized from the start as they streamed past.

I felt a bit of hesitation in my legs as I made it to the first crew access point at Les Contamines at 31k (19 mi). I already had some hesitation about my race, as I hadn't made any mistakes eating and pacing myself for the first 3 hours, but I was feeling tired and overwhelmed by so much of the field surging past me as the sun had just set. Katie tried to cheer me up telling me how wrecked people looked in front of me, and I made a resolution to myself to force myself to always get up and go out of every aid station, and only allow a DNF with a backwards walk of shame. I was trying to keep my mind strong, and I thought it would work well until I left the aid station and saw 5 runners in the next mile walking backwards to drop at Les Contamines..

The Night

The climb up Croix du Bonhomme was long, dark, drawn out, and just what I was waiting for in the race. The early race fervor had taken it's toll on the field, and I started to slowly pass a runner every half-mile or so. The descent was another issue as I had some issues with my ankles and knees and had to be cognizant of the 75 miles ahead. After a quick gear check at Les Chapieux at 49k (30mi) I ended up linking up with Darcy Piceu and made a consistent and conversational push up the next climb to Col de Seigne. The moon lit up Ville des Glaciers, and we ran and hiked briskly into the breeze at the pass at 8,000 feet.

This would prove to be some of the most challenging terrain in the race, but a new addition for the year that sent runners up a talus field again to 8,000 feet and then down another one at 2 AM. If your friend asked you go run over this talus field at 2 AM on the Col des Pyramides Calcaires, you'd probably say no because it's absolutely beautiful and arduous terrain that should only be done during the day, but the race course wasn't negotiable.

I didn't anticipate the section being as technical as it was, and began to run out of water (the night was cool and dry). I bummed some water off the checkpoint at the pass and cautiously made my way down to Lac Combal at 64k (40 miles). I met up with Michele Graglia who was having chest pains at the aid station. He had been racing (quite well) in Europe leading up to the race and was primed to turn heads for reasons besides his usual reasons (underwear modeling). In characteristic annoying engineer fashion, I gave him contrasting advice to try to drink water to lower his blood pressure and continue on, but also to not do anything that would make his wife a widow, but to at least to try to  make it down to Courmayeur, but not to go too far to be a liability.. I bid him adieu and continued on into pitch black valleys and passes, following a spread out train of headlights and spandex.

Once I final made it to Col Checrouit at 73k (45 mi), I began to learn about how descents would characteristically go on the course: I read the sign that said 4km/-880m to Courmayeur, which meant 2.5 mi/-2800 ft. That's -21%, so I figured it would be something fun, steep, and run-able. That would be the case if it was a consistent descent, but instead there was a gradual start and finish to the section. So, what really happened was the main descent of 1.5mi/-2300ft. If you followed my math, the steep part went from -21% to -29% which is something fierce at 5AM in the pitch black dark after 45 miles. It was a rush, and I had a blast charging down to Katie despite all the risk of blowing out my quads.

The basic jest of it all, is that the race works each year to do things in a more challenging way, that keeps runners on their toes (literally) and keeps the course in a constant state of increasingly diverse challenges. There's no way the course lets a good road runner flourish, or just great mountain runners dominate. The course wants runners that can hit the jets when the terrain opens up, and rein in their stride when it gets steep and technical.

I finally made it to Courmayeur just before the sun came out to illuminate the Aosta Valley, and happily worked with Katie to get my pack restocked and ready to go. I had some extra dead weight I was carrying for her, and I had some really special moments running into the aid station searching the crowd for her beaming eyes to greet me and tell me that our exhausting endeavor was just as worthwhile for her as it was to me.

Legs up at Courmayeur to keep the blood fresh in the legs. Photo by KD
I say "our", because the driving between aid stations amounted to almost 10 hours, and she rarely got a chance to sleep. If there was ever a question of whether I was carrying a panda engagement ring for a deserving lady, she always affirmed it with a big smile and supportive enthusiasm. To be honest, I only expect that type of support from her, and even still I know it's a significant burden.

Leaving Courmayeur, notice the sadness in my eyes. Photo by Gabi Schenkel

From Courmayeur to Champex-Lax, Miles 45-76

Leaving Courmayeur knowing I wouldn't see her for 30 miles wasn't easy. I felt like the trail's steep and inconsistent terrain has already taken a few pounds of muscles from me, but my combo of PowerBar Blasts and Protein Bars as well as aid station salami and Coke kept the legs in the game. I had no clue what my place was, but I did know that runners were still passing me. In reality, I was passing a few runners in every aid station due to drops or other reasons, but I was getting passed on the trail, so I was actually slowly moving up the field even though I thought the opposite.

I saw Sage coming down into the Refugio Bertone aid station to catch a ride on a helicopter. Racing means taking risks, and he had cut open his knee coming into Courmayeur. He left with stitches trying to save his race, but they wouldn't hold on the downhills and he had to make the long term decision to save his knees for more than just this one race. As one might expect, there was a bit of regret and relief in his face which was fitting in this land of heaven and hell.

The terrain leveled out on the way to Refugio Bonatti, and I started to realize the full circle of terrain on the course. If I had been racing up front, I would have had to charge this flat section right after grinding up a steep climb, and then prepare myself for a quick descent before another long climb to 8,000 ft. I jogged along with a few other sleep deprived runners, and began to realize the hard work that put the leaders on the Grand Col Ferret (mi 63) at sunrise.

Fernando charging up Gran Col Feret, me being stoic
Eventually I linked up with Fernando, a bay area runner at Arnuva and followed him up the long climb to the top of Grand Col Ferret that we reached late morning. The ascent is full of false summits, and I felt proud to earn it as simplistically as I did, so I stopped to take my one picture in the whole race for Katie (who only got to climb it in a storm).

The view Katie missed out on at the top of the Gran Col Feret
The descent was another issue though as my knees were tightening up and making a gentle descent very haphazard. The predictably eclectic terrain continued as we floated along a narrow traverse before making a steep and sudden descent into La Fouly at 108K (67mi) where we'd run a long a hot and flattish descent for 6 miles before a run-able climb to Champex-Lac at 122K (76mi). The heat of the day was taking its effect on the field, but I felt at home and started to really enjoy the race like a summer 100 in the U.S.

La Fouly was a great place to drop after the last section, but I had a special package to deliver

The Last 38 Miles

Champex-Lac, notice the love growing Photo by Gabi Schenkel
Seeing Katie at Champex-Lac was the reward I'd been promising myself for hours since I had left Courmayeur. The runners I'd spent time with on the course that morning were a mix of "hung over stoics" and "1000 mile stare PTSD mountain runners" so her bright big smile was uplifting to say the least. I knew that at Champex-Lac, I was in the "nice" part of the course that lavished me with shorter climbs and more crew access. I hadn't yet seen the chin-scraper Bovine climb at 134k (83 miles), the exceptionally steep Vallorcine descent at 149k (93 miles), the drawn out final climb at 155k (96 miles), or the involved 12km (7mi) descent, or the glorious final k, but I was in good spirits as I left Champex-Lac at mile 76 with a mere 29 miles to go.

The afternoon stayed warm and I had started to feel at home on the gentle trails that let me run and get into a good consistent grove. That abruptly ended at the Bovine climb which was something out of Rambo I. After 21 hours on the course, I accepted that this climb was necessary and good. The section was relentless but it petered out, and I began to pick up momentum again moving ahead of my fellow zombie competitors that had marched the climb with me. At Trient, with 29k (18mi) to go, I saw Jesse again for a moment on the in-n-out of the aid station. We had both dreamed of this moment for what felt like years over the course of the first 88 miles. To see him on his way to redemption in this impossible to believe moment was something special. Jesse is a simple guy that works hard without any fanfare, and he was more than deserving of this beautiful experience after being denied a finish at La Fouly last year.

Trient is a great place to be before sunset! Photo by Gabi Schenkel
Though I had been on the hunt for scalps in the last several miles (Inglorious Bastards reference), I had reached a few talented runners that would keep me working hard all the way to the finish. There was a lanky Scandinavian runner that had run 50 miles in under 5:30, but at this moment we were identical twins. The descent into Vallorcine had us limping downhill like old men, but in our own minds we were duking it out like it was the Rumble in the Jungle.

I saw Katie again at 7PM and took in my final supplies for the last 19km push to the finish. I would've been optimistic of an easy final climb, but Topher and Dylan reeled me back in with intel on the everlasting nature of the climb and the thoroughly punishing final descent. Without much more thought, I kissed Katie one last time and hiked off into dusk, prepared to do whatever it took to get the last 11 miles done before midnight.

Leaving Vallorcine, heading up to the shelf in the background Photo by Gabi Schenkel
The magic of UTMB started to become more palpable as locals lined the trail to the base of the climb; excitedly cheering us on, knowing full well of the impending glory awaiting us at the finish line. It was a worthy final climb that gained elevation quickly and then leveled off near the top, floating along above the atmosphere above Chamonix, giving a moonlit view of the massif I had been impossibly running around for 27 straight hours. Though I wanted to immediately be at the final aid station at La Flegere at 160k (99mi), the trail wound about the canyons for a few more kilometers before reaching it at 11pm.

The Final Descent and Finish

I walked through the aid with confidence and calmness of my chances of finishing the last 5 miles in under an hour. I drank my broth and coke, and left accepting whatever the course would throw at me. A steep ski slope straight down to right hand turn onto a road covered in rocks to a sudden hard left into the trees onto a singletrack that felt like a glowing magic carpet. I knew what I would have done 10 miles ago: a conservative and calculated descent that focused on foot placement and security. I let go of the fear of not finishing, and I let my ankles relax and absorb the rocks and roots as my quads pressed down with gentle consistency, and my hips cruised along like a sailboat on a gentle day. I whooped and wailed as I made my way through La Floria which still had a few hardcore race fans cheering in the dark. The single track turned to rocky fire road, then to pavement, and finally to the lit streets of Chamonix. I ran along the roaring river that seemed to carry my spirit along, and into the town that was wide awake and ready to welcome me.

Just 29 hours after I left and went around Mont Blanc.. I return.
I gathered up all my brainpower to try to absorb the memories of the moment and came across the line to embrace Katie, finally without the need to be hurried out of an aid station after 104 miles of running. I told her I had to ask her a question, and I dug into my pack and slowly got down on one knee. She immediately started to seize up and cover her face like the moment was a sleep deprived hallucination, but I opened my mouth and said the words "will you marry me?" After gasping for breath, she stopped breathing and I asked "well, is that a yes?" and she finally burst out "YES!"

104 miles, 29:39

She said "YES" - Photo by Matt Trappe

Post Race Thoughts

The last time I was this grateful to finish a race was Hardrock, but this moment was different in a foreign country with the love of my life as my true partner and biggest supporter. I'm starting to accept the innate magic of exploring and running for the sake of the experience, and not solely defining the experience by competitive outcomes. I'll be back racing in a few months, pinning on a race bib and letting the legs explode with energy and reckless abandon for shorter and safer races, but I think I do have a substantial degree of gratitude for the magic of finishing a meaningful 100 mile race every year, regardless of the competitive results.

I'm really excited to enjoy the simplicity of training for my home town 100 miler, Angeles Crest, next August, and I think if I can keep track of my energy levels and the need for rest along the way, I can do something fast and meaningful with the perspective of how much pain I was in during UTMB. The tools I used mentally and physically to keep going are tangible and real. Until then, I'm slowly letting my body re-discover the joy of running with just a pair of shoes and shorts, and the weightlessness of the feeling of only running as far as I care to.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Europe, Culture, and Wilderness

I spent 12 days in Europe and saw an intriguing contrast of how things are done across the pond versus America. Because the race was such a big deal in Chamonix, the words "immersive experience" will have to do even though I'd like to describe it in stronger terms. My race report will follow in a couple days to allow for a digestible and segmented recap.

I met Katie outside the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX at 1PM on Wednesday the 19th, and we hurried inside the massive terminal to escape the cigarette smoke of international travelers. Most people don't smoke in California (or aren't allowed to in public places), and most people in Europe do smoke, all the time, everywhere, in synchronized succession, until they have to reload, which is a momentary pause.

A380, rich people on top, everyone else on the bottom

Though most of LAX is still undergoing small updates, the international terminal is essentially an brand new mall complete with 3 story LCD displays and hip boutiques. We enjoyed a snack and boarded the GIGANTIC A380 in less time it takes to board a 737 half the size, and flew for 10 hours (with only a 3 hour night) over the arctic. It was complete with two tasty meals, wine, beer, Irish whiskey, and more beer along the way. The plane itself is huge and has plenty of room to stretch your legs and stand about (giant relief because I hate being cooped up). Additionally, Lufthansa lived up to hype as one of the best airlines for in-flight service/movies/food/drinks/snacks.

Arriving in Frankfurt, we found out we needed to go through security again, and chase down an elusive gate that kept changing. We finally made it on board another Lufthansa flight for Geneva, and finally arrived 14 hours since we left LA. The feeling of jetlag in a foreign country is a unique and overwhelming one, as we got lost walking to the rental counter, driving out of Geneva, and finding our first hotel in Chamonix. We were like the tourists that come to LA that act like every detail of life is bewilderingly confusing*.

*We were operating at 25% brain power and didn't speak French.

When we made it finally to our hostel in Chamonix, we checked in and collapsed into a coma as our heads hit the bed. After 14 hours of sleep, we awoke the next morning to fully realize we were in a mountain paradise.

Welcome to France
In France, there are a few things you have to be able to do to be happy:

1) Pain is Bread, but bread is not painful. We ended up eating a lot of bread - which is impressive because we did get caught up in a gluten-avoidance lifestyle that had spread through the US. I actually consciously tried to work it back into my diet before the trip, but the amount of quality/quantity is totally different from the US. Essentially, everywhere you turn, there are baguettes of really fresh French bread that doesn't have more than a few ingredients in it. So, for us during our refugio hoping days, we ate a ton of it, but miraculously were not bound to the toilets.

2) Cheese, butter, and milk are farm fresh - you can run by the cows that make it, and (surprise) it tastes great and works as pretty decent fuel with bread.
Hi, cows.
3) European meat products are really, really, good. You can buy a pack of dried salami or prosciutto and snack on it without indigestion from preservatives or excessive fat. I ran a good amount of UTMB snacking on salami at aid stations, through all sorts of conditions. I'm sure part of it is that hiking steep hills at a slower pace makes it more digestible, but I'd still recommend it (with a glass of coke) to Americans looking for readily available on course fuel solutions.

4) In general, my diet got to be very consistent because this is what refugios offer:
Mornings: coffee, bread, marmalade, and butter
Lunch: bread, cheese, butter, and salami or ham sandwiches
Dinner: bread and butter with some meat and veggies

5) We learned to drive a stick shift like we knew exactly where we were going. There is no patience for cars that aren't moving up and down hills at the maximum speed limit or not using the #1 lane to pass. Most cars have tiny engines that are always in a low gear to push through the steep parts, so we had to get used to pushing our go-cart rental hard and focusing on shifting and navigating much more than in America (land of automatics and cell phone addiction).

Ski lifts! Everywhere!

We learned all of this in the first few days and slowly got our bearings driving to Le Chapieux, the southern most part of the course. The Mont Blanc Massif ripples outward for thousands of acres, in an unusually small but huge way. The tree line varies greatly across from region to region, but one constant is that man is allowed to develop almost every and any part of the massif. Chairlifts criss-cross the road which criss-crosses giant, steep passes. I'm speaking of these remarkable man made developments in contrast to the Californian Sierra Club model, which champions large swaths of mountain wilderness that have zero roads or private developments. In the Mont Blanc region, refugios and roads were built centuries before John Muir started crawling around the Sierras. Even after the Sierra Club became a force in conservation, Europeans still continued to champion great engineering projects like the tram up Aiguille du Midi and more expansive ski resorts.

Refugio Bertone perched above Courmayeur was finishing another remodel (it might be Hotel Bertone when we return)
There are a few wilderness areas today on and around the massif, but they're generally in less desirable terrain to develop, i.e. windswept ridges and less-ski-able terrain. I gathered that Europeans' approach to nature, is that man is smart and caring enough to not ruin nature.. Then again there are counter-examples (toilet paper and trash on the side of the trail) of imperfections of this ideal. The overall truth is that there's examples of animals still finding ways to thrive and co-exist and also animals going extinct (I've researched this for 30 minutes, there's examples both ways). In general though, the amount of people in the mountains is impressively less detrimental to the environment than in the U.S.

The overall trend with humans is that demand for places to hike/run/climb/ski/explore is higher per capita in Europe. As one might expect, those that wander out into this steep terrain on their own accord are generally more eco-conscious about what they're doing, but there's always an occasional fool. In the U.S. there's less demand per capita, so those that do go out into the wilderness are less eco-conscious and tend to do more foolish things per capita. In the end, the balancing act is that Europeans over develop trails compared to Americans, but the same amount of trash gets left in popular areas. Meanwhile, there are more places in America to escape everyone and be completely alone. I'm not afraid to say that I would love to see more funding for conservation in the form of education and cultural immersion in the U.S. with less red tape around wilderness areas, but I do respect the work that our environmentalists do to protect the land from the armies of fools.

Another way to contrast America and Europe is in terms of quality and quantity. America has higher quality wilderness and service industries, where Europe has higher quality trails/access and food. America has higher quantity (cheaper) food, fuel, and services where Europe has a much higher quantity of trail use and land use (hikers and farms are everywhere). Personal freedom is more monetary in the US where as in Europe it's more time based. The main take away is that both continents have much to learn from each other, but both look at each other with impulsive disdain for "stupid Americans" or "Creepy Euros". I understand the knee jerk reaction when someone walks into a restaurant and speaks the wrong language, but there's a greater opportunity to learn and make changes for the better. Heck, globalization and global warming mean we're all in it together, so cultural differences aside, we're slowly becoming one big happy family.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Aug 3-9

The looming giant of a race that is UTMB that is waiting for me is rather significant. 33,000 ft of climbing is no joke, and the finish will most certainly be earned. The problems I had in July put a damper on training, but it appears that basic things are coming back around: durability in the mountains, hiking strength, and downhill footwork. I'm not at risk of being over-trained right now, the only risk would be losing my mental stamina going forward. The logistics of international travel, navigating foreign countries, and planning out 11 days in Europe while optimizing my body for racing is a little bit mentally exhausting, but I'm sure it'll be worthwhile and an amazing experience.

Still, part of me is a little bit frustrated at how most people tell me it's going to be "fun". If the race was just 30 miles, and we had all accommodations paid for, and no threat of hellish weather or an arduous finish.. then yes, "fun" would be the descriptor. Yet, after all the problems are solved and I cross the finish line in Chamonix, I suppose a thought might creep into my mind that it was "type II fun"..

Monday - 4 mi running up Acorn in the evening, no pain!

Tuesday - 10 mi - tempo of 5 mi on Mullhullound, not easy after the long weekend, but good to clear out the carbon.

Wednesday - Easy 5mi at sunset at Will Rodgers

Thursday - Easy 3 mi - Soleus was speaking to me

Friday - 19 mi out of Chantry with the poles and full kit. I think my gear is pretty dialed in for the race, everything felt good and secure running on similar UTMB terrain.

Saturday - 14 mi at night from Wrightwood to Baldy - the rains had torn up the terrain, and it was a moonless night, but I kept trucking along the steep terrain and enduring the type 2 fun until it became type 1 fun

Sunday - 6 mi - Mellow, just getting some fun miles above Wrightwood.

  • 61.3mi
  • 13h 2818,192ft
    I might have done a bit more mileage, but the body was a bit reluctant. This week upcoming is more important for being sharp and strong.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2015

    July 27 - Aug 2

    Though I only had 4 runs last week while recovering from the tougher than expected Speedgoat 50k and making time to take care of Katie at AC, the sacrifice karma worked out well, as I'm running well today.

    Tues: 5.4 mile up Los Leones, down the rabbit hole. The body wasn't too energetic, but I got it done without any nagging injuries

    Wed: 3.5 mi taper with Katie, just easy lap around the golf course for the sake of getting Katie (and myself) ready to enjoy the weekend.

    Fri: 2 mi taper run with Katie on Acorn, I felt much better than Tuesday, but the sleepless weekend would crush my energy until I got to sleep in again.

    Saturday: 25 mi (mostly hiking) with Katie while pacing during AC100. Not an easy night after crewing her (and other friends and strangers) all day.

    The race (like most things in life) isn't perfect or ideal. It's a blend of good intentions, fierce lows and powerful highs, painful and glorious human interactions, and crazy stories of absurd extremes. Yet, it is without a doubt my favorite weekend of the year, anywhere in the world. Though I didn't race, I did get this powerful boost out of the weekend from the good moments of icing a stranger in need down, and getting them on their way a little faster with a little better chance of finishing. When someone really needs a helping hand, and anyone (myself or an crew/volunteer/pacer) gets selflessly invested in helping that person out, it's just a beautiful thing.

    Maybe I could be more vocally involved in getting the race organization to update and improve, but I'm more comfortable with encouraging the community aspect rather than the organization aspect. When someone gets frustrated about the sign up process, I understand the justifiable anger of missing out on the running side of the event. It's a big feeling to finish the race and feel the rush of rounding the corner onto Palm Street. Still for me, it was a big feeling to run with Katie through the night when things were at their worst, and to see her persevere all the way to Altadena faster than ever before. It was a big deal to see Joe Devreese gut out a finish after having to readjust expectations all day, and especially sweet to see Billy Simpson work his butt off out of the goodness of his heart to pace him all the way to the finish.

    Sure, there were some not cool things along the way to Altadena, aid stations running out of aid, crews breaking rules, etc. etc. but generally the good people that understood the necessity of supporting the dreams of the runners, filled the gaps and made the race happen. In that sense, I don't get so judgmental about race organizations. Their job is to preserve the race and keep it functioning year after year, and the community's job is to decide whether to make it a good race with awesome performances of the athletic and compassionate nature. With that said, I'll be racing next year, Katie will be crewing me, and I'll be encouraging all the entrants along the way to make the most of the gift of a spot on the starting line, and the crews/volunteers/pacers to make it the best race they ever are apart of.

    The potential of the course is huge, and it's a worthy and arduous experience to train for and participate in the San Gabriels, 365 days a year.

    Mile 99.9

    Monday, July 27, 2015

    July 20-26

    Tues: Easy 10 mile loop up Sullivan and Westridge with Katie and Peter. Soleus seemed to be totally fine with the gradual terrain and easy pace.

    Wed: Tried to pace Katie to a Temescal PR, but it wasn't in the cards for her that day. Katie has a solid PR on the climb, and running faster than her PR takes some ideal variables all lining up just right. It's funny how frustrating short runs are that are decided all too fast, as if running 2 minutes slower for a segment on the AC course would define a 100 mile performance.. But in the instance of a Wednesday morning run, the taper crazies can make a mind wander.

    Thurs: Easy Westridge with Peter.

    Fri: Travel to SLC

    Saturday: The Speedgoat 50k has become a mecca for hardcore mountain runners, so when I got an offer from Greg in June to take his spot, I took it because I'd rarely have the race on my radar with my traditional summer 100s that make it very hard to run well at Snowbird. In June, things were looking good. My fitness had been coming along since the end of April, and no major injuries were present. I injured my soleus over the July 4th weekend, and I spent the last three weeks of July doing very little mileage to keep the injury from carrying into August. The stretching, low mileage, and lack of workouts did the trick, but I also lost a bit of fitness and mountain running strength.

    I was optimistic my time at Hardrock would count for something, and it essentially let me hike all day without any issues. However, the Speedgoat course is so involved (there's something for everyone: Steep, really steep, extremely steep, runnable, technical, extremely technical, buffed out), that running in the 6 hour range requires some strong lungs and limbs to run as much of the gradual terrain as possible. I spent the first climb trying to keep a modest pace a few switchbacks behind the leaders, but the altitude and technical terrain wanted a bit more effort to hold that "modest" pace, and by the time I topped out at Hidden Peak at 11,000 ft. (9 miles in) I was accepting the fitness I was lacking as a sign I should really make it a training race (i.e. slow down and don't blow up for no reason, because finishing the race would be much better for UTMB than trying to race hard and blow up).

    Mile 1 with Jenn Shelton, Photo by Zac Marion

    The course had a general pattern: unpredictability. Coming over the peak, we descended on a fire road for a bit before hitting up a stretch of singletrack overgrown by wildflowers. I think Unicorns running in wildflowers is about as American and the American Flag Store (SLC has one). I enjoyed the segment for all of a minute before I missed a large rock that was hidden by the flowers and went parallel and revolving with the terrain. Bloody hooves, busted gels, and a bruised toe reminded me to chill out and let the course come to me. The course continued winding through the basin, and climbed steeply up to a saddle to drop into another valley that featured a fire road from hell. I felt some tendinitis in my toe flaring up so I tried to carefully dance with the bowling ball rock field and avoid any further damage, but it was frustrating. Eventually I reached Roch Horton's Pacific Mine Aid Station with a pack of runners, and headed back up the long and gradual (run-able) climb through the Aspens with Ryan Lassen. The temperature climbed with us as we hiked/ran and talked about ultra running. As with most things in life, talking about a difficult activity while doing it seems to make it less mind numbingly hard.

    Eventually Ryan picked up the pace, and I started getting protein bonks. Taking gels only in a race only works for so long for me, and eventually I have to get in some protein to catalyze the sugar. I got back to the Mineral Basin Aid Station on fumes and had 10 grams of protein and a couple cups of coke to get ready for the big climb up the looming Baldy Peak. Heading up to 11,000ft three times in a 50K is pretty stout, but it would be foolish to think that the characteristically unpredictable course would just take a natural ascetic line up to the peak. Instead, we marched from 9,500ft to 10,500ft and then avoided the ridge trail that led up to the peak and instead dropped 300ft to a nondescript, steep, grassy bowl where we found a line of blue flags going 800ft straight up the bowl.

    To put it in perspective, it would be like if you were on the 5th floor of a building, and you needed to get to the tenth floor, and for no reason at all, you took the stairs down to the 2nd floor and then turned around and took the stairs up to the 10th floor. This would be the overwhelming pattern for the rest of the race.

    From Baldy Peak I could see Hidden Peak less than a mile away, the top of our last descent. I had 23 miles on my watch, and reasoned one could run down to the saddle and up to Hidden Peak to retrace the first 9 miles of the race and call it a day. Instead the course took a left at the saddle and headed down to Tunnel AS (where we ran through a tunnel), and dropped down to 9,600 for a 3rd climb to 11,000 ft.

    Climbing Baldy Peak from the bowl to the right, Photo by Brad Harris

    It was warm and there was good reason to take salt and hydrate, but I seemed to be favoring an overly minimalist approach to just get the race over with. A foolish mistake on my part, and good reinforcement to be patient at UTMB and force in the calories, salt, and water. The climb up the ridge to Hidden Peak was unnecessarily slow in my stubborn and stupefied state. I could've easily taken 10-15 minutes off my 30 minute mile with proper nutrition, but I wasn't feeling very considerate for myself.

    There was definitely a bit of a "dark with no silver lining" place I was at between the two peaks. I was mad at my shoes, mad at my gel soaked shirt, made at the course, and mad at myself for wasting this trip to Utah with my injury in July. My mind raced from mistake to mistake that made me wonder what I would do in France, how I would recover, and what I needed to avoid any more mistakes in this long and painful year. Ultras are at an unsustainable place right now: elite runners go all over the world with expectations to have all the experience and fitness to dominate. However, there's a lot of opportunities for new ultra runners to come into a race and excel with talent that hasn't been burnt out, mistakes that can be easily absorbed, and injuries that haven't accumulated to any measurable amount. In a way, it reminds me of being the middle son (with two sisters) growing up. 

    I'd like to say I've done a ton of races, but I'm not even halfway to 100 ultras. I'd like to say I'm young at 28, and ready to run hard, but I'm actually carrying a few injuries and recovering slower than before. I'd like to say I'm on the verge of a great race, but I know that great is easily diluted today in races that have dozens of new up and comers that can melt themselves down to their core and make a hard fought finishing time appear average. Growing up, I wanted women's equality to mean that my sisters and I did equal chores, but I did the majority. I wanted my sisters to get punished for their transgressions as severely as I did, but alas I got the best punishments. I wanted to freedom to stay out late and do as I please, but alas I had the tightest leash. 

    At Hidden Peak at mile 27, when I heard we had another 6 miles to go as I was getting passed, I gulped down some Coke and gingerly tip toed down the trail of talus. I understood all the fairness that I perceived was simply never there, and I worked my butt off to stay upright and hold my position for another 5 miles of rough terrain and unnecessary hills, shoulder to shoulder with 5 runners that had finished less combined ultras than myself. 

    I crossed the finish line and felt a huge relief wash over my sore and exhausted body. Though we stood at 7,800 feet, it felt very similar to my first 50k finish seven years ago. The summer afternoon air of July was calm and warm; the trail smoothed out to a buttery and merciful grade, and my body pumped with adrenaline allowing my mind to leave the pain and soreness of the previous 31 miles behind for a gentle landing among kind and welcoming volunteers.
    The "Final" Descent
    32.6 miles, 11,800ft, 7:36 

    Weekly total:

    • 58.1mi
    • 11h 27m
    • 16,627ft

    Monday, July 20, 2015

    July 13-19

    It's tough to nail down good training with a lot of travel, and it's also tough to get it right with a few "not quite bad/not quite ok" niggles around the body. So, though I would've ideally seen a few more miles logged on my Strava in July, I made peace with easing back into a gradual build into August with non-ideal fitness for Speedgoat 50k. That's a far cry from the Unicorn of yester years who would lower his horn and stamp his hooves till the numbers moved and the adrenals ached.

    Listening to Warren Olney tonight on my way home, I heard an interesting argument against letting persons under 21 use E-Cigarettes. The argument from the 21+ movement was that Nicotine affects the development of the brain, and the age at which an individual has the ability to have the maturity to be able to use nicotine and decide how to use it responsibly is 26-28 years old. They knew they couldn't get the country to accept 27 years of age, so they went with lobbying for tobacco use to only be allowed 21+. It brought up an interesting idea of how rental cars charge an extra fee for persons 25 and under, how most professional athletes out of college still don't (usually) become championship athletes for 3-5 years, and how most people in their late 20's are not interested in dating people in their early 20's (usually, except for the industrial grade magnetic pull I had on Katie).

    Thus, I suppose that my current approach to running is about a matter of time and place in life. I don't have a big agenda about calculating the perfect training and believing that I am all or nothing, but I rather have a desire for the cool and clean moments when a "Whoooo-OOOOP!" comes naturally out of my lungs, and I can sense a balance of power and joy in my legs for a few minutes in the middle of a run. I enjoy that feeling so much, that I let my body talk to me and tell me what it needs to give me more of those experiences. In the end, I might lose a bit of fitness and gain a pound or two, but I get the promise of enjoying a workout and feeling momentum throughout the year. For what it's worth, this might be the first time I feel good in Autumn!

    Tuesday: Test jog around the golf course for the soleus: I found out it needs the AIS stretching routine daily and that it was going to heal with some gentle running and stretching.

    Wednesday: Test workout 4x1min and 1x2min. I couldn't go all out, but I could get the heart rate up and focus on getting my mojo back with a little adrenaline rush in the morning. All systems seemed to be responding (although I didn't have the HR strap, I could tell my heart was responsive).

    Thurs: Convo pace up Temescal, enjoyed some apparent progress on the sandstone with the Coyote run

    Fri: Easy run at Inspiration Point - rather beautiful and idyllic run that made my lungs feel strong and capable. I think there's some undeniable benefit to being at high altitude for a few days, and coming back to recover at sea level for a boost of RBC and general confidence in the San Gabes.

    One weekend in the San Gabes..

    Sat: After staying up late watching the fire, we finally got some sleep and made our way up to Blue Ridge for some cold, wet, and windy July running. The storm was great for the fire, and made our fun run to the CG a bit nippy but exhilarating. Again, the lungs felt perfectly fine on Acorn.

    Sun: Attempted to get in a 5x5min interval workout in the window of no-rain afforded by, but instead we got gradually more and more clobbered by the storm cell opening up on Blue Ridge. The intervals looked great on the HR monitor, with 165+ BPM for most of the intervals, I got a good feeling about my adrenals being receptive for Saturday. The workout stopped at 4 reps when the rain turned to hail and the lightning fired up.. So we just did a quick cool down back to a flash flood threatening to take our deck away. Luckily we built a quick set of dams and kept the water in a stream around the house.

    • 41.7mi
    • 7h 14m
    • 9,686ft
    • Not a great number for July, but plenty of good signs for things to come in August.

    Monday, July 13, 2015

    July 6-12

    After coming back from Hardrock, one can't help but feel optimistic about the sport and the raw power of the amazing runner's high found in the San Juans. The race involves some questionable risk taking in some big mountains (which accordingly attract some big storms), but the way the race supports runners and the way pacers/crews and runners work together make the dream a little more possible each year (despite some cold and wet storms, only 23% of the field dropped). There's some inherent vice to be expected: worn out lungs, crushed quads, sleep and oxygen deprived brains, and frozen/soaked bodies; but the scenery is so inviting, and the way the race organization and volunteers go the extra mile(s) to make the race happen is so inspiring that the optimism for the sport's potential to live up to lofty ideals seems realistic.

    At 7am, Katie and I drove over to Cunningham Gulch to be greeted by a surly parking enforcement volunteer (that also happened to be an amazing runner), Mr. Dakota Jones that was volunteering just for the race. He could've been hanging out and watching the race like everyone else, but instead he took it upon himself to do the worst job in ultrarunning to give something back to the race so that the BLM Officers couldn't find fault with the race. This was just one of many volunteers that came from all over the world to contribute to the race (see The African Attachment's "Kroger Canteen" episode July 14th).

    At any rate, I got to run and hike for 10 hours/25 miles with Matt Hart. Traveling and my soleus pain limited my training elsewhere in the week, but I felt great at altitude and enjoyed my time in Silverton. More stretching and strengthening to happen this week to get a little confidence before I go to Snowbird for Speedgoat 50k next week.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2015

    June 22 - July 25

    I have lots to write about, but not a lot of time, so I'll glaze over my stream on consciousness for the past two weeks:

    June 22-28
    Monday - Off, not feeling too bad, but definitely worthy of a rest after the high-quality 104 mile week

    Tuesday - 10 mi - Time Trial up Green Peak: 32:48 was just 20 seconds off my PR for the 3.6 mile/1600ft climb. It's funny to look at the numbers and think "oh that's all I can do? 8:55/mi??" But Temescal doesn't have much straight lines or consistent terrain, so over the years, I've grown to accept that anything under 35 minutes for guys is a decent level of fitness, and anything close to 30 is a good push. Overall, I was glad to see that the intervals and lower mileage allowed me to run hard and not feel too tired or worn out. #Progress

    Wednesday - So that yucca barb in my ankle (that the Dr. said wasn't in my ankle" was just begging to come out. I went for it, and when it came out, my ankle shifted again from homeostasis into chaos and started to throb quite a bit. I cleaned it up good, but the bump around it seemed to want another day to heal.

    Thursday - 3.5mi - Went up and down Westridge Canyon Back and felt the ankle yipping a bit, which made me nervous for pacing Jorge at Western States. Mentally I was ready to back down and pace him whatever the ankle allowed, but emotionally I was depressed I couldn't see myself taking my friend 40 miles to the finish.

    Friday - 6.5mi - After driving up halfway Thursday and religiously cleaning and covering the wound and keeping the ankle elevated, I started to see some progress. We drove back to Duncan Canyon and spent an idyllic and relaxing afternoon running and cooking dinner. Once the sun went down, we banked some sleep overlooking French Meadows Reservoir.

    Saturday - 40 mi - I could write a novel about the lessons Jorge Pacheco has taught me in running. Some runners are gifted and graced with a professional set up to allow them every opportunity for rest, recovery, coaching, etc. etc. Jorge and I find ourselves in another form of a blessed set-up: just enough time to train, full time jobs, wonderful partners, and race experiences that are rarely perfect or ideal. Mari got sick the week before, and Jorge got sick during race week with the flu. That meant that Jorge spent his last sleep before the race sweating profusely with a fever and unable to sleep. When the race started, he made it one mile before collapsing and watching the entire field go by (Gordy included). By the time he made it to Duncan Canyon, he'd figured out his limitations of his flu and jogged back into the mid-pack. 

    He battled his nausea and fever all day, shaking uncontrollably in aid stations and throwing up occasionally to find his way to Forresthill where I would take him 40 miles to a 22:43 finish. I saw him at all ends of the spectrum; running, throwing up, on the verge of knocking out, and finally a proud finisher that made the most of his imperfect day. Not many pundits pick him to win big races, but he doesn't change the way he goes into his training to be a champion no matter what the circumstances of life may dictate. 

    He did multiple long 60-100 mile training weekends, and did all the speedwork and long runs needed to run in the top 10, and when all his hard work was for naught on race day, he put his head down and kept going. We talked a lot and joked along the way, but one thing was certain in my mind after we finished "I am going to finish my races if there's any way possible at all".

    Sunday - Recovery drive back to LA

    58 miles, 13:30, 11,000ft+ - Not a bad recovery week, banked some sleep before Western, and got some major inspiration from the trip (as always).

    June 29-July 5
    Monday - Slept in and rested

    Tuesday - 7.5 mi - Back to a bit of VO2max work before the long weekend hit. 9x2min got the HR up on the steep and arduous J-Drop climb. Calf/Soleus were a little concerned, but nothing too bad. Interesting data from the HR monitor showing me how long it takes my heart to get up above 170, and how my body responds to speedwork now. Definitely a bit of turbo-lag..

    Wednesday - 8mi - Easy run in Sullivan Canyon, just what I needed to get ready for the long weekend.

    Thursday - 0!! - Missed out on running due to logistics. Also, didn't feel like going running in the evening and then waking up at 3am for the real run.

    Friday - 19 mi/10,000ft/6:30 - Sleep Deprivation is a real problem that I'll have to overcome for UTMB. Though I felt awful, the 3 AM run went okay, and I eventually got into a groove and started getting efficient with my poles. I was also glad that the overly-technical trails of Mt. Baldy didn't trip me up in my zombie like stupor. The goal for UTMB is to minimize stupid mistakes, so that's what the run appeared to tell me I could do. It honestly felt like something out of a good military hazing exercise, minus anyone else making me do it, or anyone else on the mountain.

    Saturday - 22mi/3,200ft/3:20 - AC course from Cloudburst to Shortcut is a great trail run. Compared to Friday, I was flying along and enjoying the running. I hadn't practiced any heat training yet, and Guillaume sure enough pulled away on Mt. Hilyer and Chilao. We ran in the middle of the day to simulate the real heat he'd feel, and he did very well (even without crew or ice bandannas). Eventually I got it done below CR time as well, but I was glad I wasn't expecting any heat at UTMB. Oh, and the soleus seemed to be a little annoyed again after Friday's large elevation gain.

    Sunday - 28mi/5,600/5:46 - The recovery process on Saturday wasn't ideal and the heat and calf pain stopped me from going for the full 40 mile push to Altadena. I think I do need more work on taking care of myself in training, but when it comes down to it, I'm already in shape and already adept in the mountains. The rest of the runs I'll do for UTMB will just be reinforcing the good habits, and avoiding any over-training mistakes/injuries. HR data was interesting, I felt pain but couldn't get my HR as high as the day before.. Might have been the bad sleep we got in the noisy campground at Chilao or the body just being tired from Friday's early run. 

    88mi/22,000ft/19:00 - A pretty long week in terms of time and suffering. I think my goal of running UTMB smart is pretty much a matter of getting to the start line sharp and fresh, so looking back on the spring, it makes sense why my body is starting to say no to more mileage and training. Likewise, my training schedule accounted for this and isn't too demanding leading up to the race. This weekend at Hardrock is completely a matter of getting out and hiking and enjoying the San Juans, no pressure or insecurity to workout or do anything serious.

    Monday, June 22, 2015

    June 15-21

    I suppose I should admit that I'm becoming a grumpy old man because the word that permeated my skull this week was "responsibility". I think there were a few punk rock songs back in the day that shunned the word and made it seem cool to live un-responsibly, but I was too young to grasp the futility of doing anything in life without some small amount of responsibility. It was a catch-22 of, "I'm going to buy this CD about how lame responsibility is by mowing lawns," and I would either not buy the CD because I wasn't responsible enough to follow through with the chore, or I would do it and buy the CD at which point I shouldn't be listening to the CD. The point being, you can't pick up on gimmicks of an easy life and have it all (unless you made your money off lotteries/trust funds/gambling addictions/reality tv/etc).

    I think what I've enjoyed in the past week, is the sense of accomplishment coming back around to training well after a slow buildup of mileage through the spring. I've thought long and hard about what type of runner I want to be and all the mistakes I've made along the way, and the overwhelming apparent truth is that I just have to be responsible and take care of myself. If I start to strain a muscle or I am packing for a run, I have to actually take the time to think about the action and consider what else I've learned in my 28 years that might keep me moving towards my goal, rather than hopefully chaotically spinning hopefully towards it.

    One big thing was been writing myself a schedule for a month at a time, and following it and thinking through workouts and rest periods on a monthly time frame. There's some adjustment here and there, but there's more re-enforcement that I'm continually engaging in practices that are responsible uses of my time. I might see some Strava CR or beautiful trail in bloom and think I should just go out tomorrow and run it hard, but I also have this sense of responsibility in creating a structure of training for my body to develop and perform at a higher level than just my day by day random training.

    For me and all that has transpired thus far in my life, I feel a bit stronger as a runner by stating a goal and doing the empirically proven things for myself rather than being irresponsibly cool. Although it's probably a sign I'm getting old, I'm not going to get a dad-bod.

    Monday: Tiny shakeout on the Scenic Mound

    Tuesday: 5x10 min, 2 that went well, and 3 that seemed to irritate my ankle a little bit. Went to the Doctor to inspect for a Yucca barb in my ankle, but it turned out it was just a deep wound, and the scab was irritating the top/front part of my ankle. The tendon healed quickly once I learned this.. So I did a recovery run at night with Katie.

    Wednesday: Easy 10 with Katie from Will Rodgers, keeping it low key all the way.

    Thursday: 7x6min was pretty tough because running with the coyote run made me want to chase down runners I was running circles around. I probably wore myself out good for the weekend, but this would be the time to start pushing my comfort zone in my training cycle.

    Friday: Last 25 of AC took awhile in the dark and overgrown trail with Katie. I also realized I hate having too much grip on rocky terrain when I'm sleepy, but lugs can always be chopped down. In general, it was good for Katie and I to have some healthy respect for the course we're be attempting to get Katie a sub-24 hour finish on. When I've ran fast 4:25-ish runs over the last 25, it's made me underestimate it too much.

    Saturday: Got to bed at 2:45AM, and woke up at 8:00AM slowly packing for the run to Islip. Once we got underway, it was 10AM and above 80 degrees at 8,000 feet. It was eye opening how much water we went through and how exhausting it was to run uphill. We hiked a lot, and it was a rough first 25 of AC.

    Sunday: Slept in and had brunch before we got going around noon (again, another hot day). We got stopped talking to a neighbor for a good 30 minutes (super cool old firefighter who has lived in Wrightwood for 39 years). We eventually got onto the mind-blowing 6x10min intervals up the Blue Ridge Trail/PCT, which was tough in the heat, but much more productive than the alternative of just jogging around easy for an hour. I was proud of Katie and I for finishing off the training block properly.

    104 Miles, 20;45, 22,000ft

    Hard earned miles in a busy week. The reality of this training style being sustainable and progressive is coming through. Next week is a step back week, but I will be doing quite a few miles Saturday night with the one and only Chivo Loco (Jorge Pacheco) at Western.

    Monday, June 15, 2015

    June 8 - 14

    Injuries are a tough pill to swallow, especially since a lot of them are ultimately self-induced (albeit by accident). It's a complex emotion to know your poor judgement was the cause of your ailment, but sometimes acknowledging that your nature is wild and free is a small (minuscule) silver lining.

    Friday night Katie and I went for a shakeout run up Strawberry Peak, which in itself is very scenic and idyllic. The trail from Red Box gradually winds around through two saddles before a single track follows the ridgeline to the peak. Once at the peak, we were treated to beautiful views of the heart of the San Gabriels. Perhaps it was the new proto's on my feet that felt awesome or maybe the freeing feeling of running on a Friday afternoon, but I elected that we inspect the western ridge of the peak, which lead to the north-western chute that was hazardous in almost every sense of the word. After four hours of crumbly rock climbing, getting lost, traversing poison oak, yuccas, and terricula, we emerged hobbling to our car in pitch black darkness.

    We're generally responsible adults that pay our taxes, have health insurance, and work hard at our jobs, but on that night I was motivated by know-it-all-ism and proceeded to tear apart our bodies leaving us mostly worthless by Saturday morning. I was so mad with myself that I went crazy for a couple minutes in the middle of a patch of poison oak and added urushiol to the yucca barbs in my leg. We were lucky to salvage a workout on Sunday, but my ankle was not too happy on the downhill, so I'm headed to the Dr. tomorrow to see what can be done about the barbs.

    Easy 2 miles, just shaking it out

    4x10min - I tried to run the Sullivan Ridge singletrack and found it exceptionally tough to run well. I know this is part of my development for UTMB, but running up a 30% grade on and off puts the hurt on me. It only lasted two intervals before I ran out of that wild terrain and started cranking it on the fire road. It was nice to finish up on Westridge where it was surprisingly easy to cruise downhill at 5min pace.

    Off, bad scheduling and extra sleep made me run out of time to run.

    5x8 min on Los Leones - The legs didn't seem to appreciate the extra day off, as I found it hard to crank out too much speed on the groomed fireroad. Using the Wahoo HR monitor during the workout was interesting, I never expected it to be so hard to keep HR up above 155, but it seemed to want to dip below that if I didn't focus and hold my intensity and form. I think I've probably done too many years of Long Slow Distance.

    Said adventure/bad decision run on Strawberry Peak

    Licking wounds and yard work.

    5 1/3 x 10min - Uphill seemed okay on the warm-up, and downhill seemed not too painful to keep me off the mountain. Again, the lack of a significant recovery run made my body feel flat. My lungs worked overtime to keep a running stride on the intervals, which felt satisfying (even if the pace was slow).

    54mi, 11 hours, 12,900ft +
    I'm not especially happy with the week, but it's just the way it goes sometimes. I'm not a professional athlete, or even a professional person, but I take what I can get to in the training I can get. I'm glad I did all my workouts, but I'm hoping this minor setback lets me run hard in July.

    Monday, June 8, 2015

    June 1-7

    Perhaps this is a boring idea to most, but it's exciting to me: my steady mileage increase feels really good. I've been patiently hanging out below 100 miles a week, and I've been rewarded with the feeling of responsiveness in my legs when I pick up the pace, and I have no nagging injuries headed into July. I'm on a date with maturity and it looks disgustingly cute when we're holding hands and I'm wearing a cardigan sweater, but I don't care when the other guys make fun of me because I get awesome rushes when I do workouts. Even more, I can see other guys in bad relationships with training that leaves them used and abused, and I don't get jealous.

    I think a requirement for all ultrarunners to come of age in the digital age is to be able to look at another runner's Strava or social media post, and not feel the need to try to challenge or complain about their setup making it easier to out-train the field. The only way that posts about 5 hour runs or blazing CRs can be detrimental is if you don't believe in your training, and you feel like you're a step behind or you're not good enough. It's all self-detrimental bullshit to want to train more like another high mileage runner, because race results of lower mileage runners like Hal Koerner or Dave Mackey speak volumes of their maturity to wear cardigans and turn down offers for all nighters with loose legs. The only problem is that Hal and Dave aren't on Strava, they're just on ultrasignup with dozen's of podiums and wins.

    Monday: Rest

    Tuesday: 4x10 min on the slight uphill in Sullivan Canyon. Guillaume and Ryan made it a bit more interesting as I ran well the first two in the bottom of the canyon, but suffered a bit on the second two intervals climbing out of the canyon. They were courteous enough to not destroy me after my painful weekend on Baldy, but I still felt like I didn't slow down too much as we leaned into the climb.
    PM: Easy 3 miles to shake off the lactic acid.

    Wednesday: Easy 9 miles with Katie, in which I defended our weekend plans to forgo sleep between driving back and forth between the San Gabriel and San Diego mountains. I advocated that it was better to be tired once or twice a week to keep the body aware of an impending sleepless night in August, and Katie did not.

    Thursday: 6x6 min super early in the morning on Sullivan Ridge. Intervals are fun and all, but doing them with the sun coming up makes it extra invigorating. I called an audible and did a steep and short singletrack climb in the middle of the 5th interval that felt amazing. The run off the backside of it exposed a bit of quad pain from Tuesday, but it felt appropriately hard for training less miles and more quality.

    Friday: Went up Mt. Wilson (13mi) at sunset with my z-poles. The whole idea of poles is tough because it's an admittance of shifting gears and mindset from racing to touring. I suppose the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc is an obvious ideal application for poles, so I'll have to get used to them, but it's awkward because nothing in LA is steep and smooth like UTMB (maybe some parts of Acorn). I didn't have much room or soft terrain to plant the sticks on up the Mt. Wilson trail, but I did get to see a beautiful sunset.

    Saturday: Dropped Katie off at Chantry and drove to Loma Alta to do Steep and Cheap with the poles and into Idlehour to run the last 11+ with her for 19miles. Poles felt less awkward today, clouds at 3,500ft were beautiful as ever.

    Sunday: Did 5x10 from near the top of Acorn over to Inspiration. It felt awesome after using the poles and pack for the past few days to hit some good splits in the most idyllic single track in the San Gabes for fast running. Definitely a good check in the box as far as form, cardio, and health are concerned. I haven't ran those miles that fast with that little pain in a long time. 13 miles.

    Weekly Total: 84mi, 16 hours, 18,200ft. 

    -A good week of running that felt indulgent without feeling abusive.

    Monday, June 1, 2015

    May 25-31

    One of the most important things I've learned from ultrarunning is sustainability. The sport is far from a sport of tough guys slamming their muscles against the dirt (at least for me). Though there are a lot of people out there that come into the sport for 1-5 years and grind out finishes until they get nothing more out of the sport, there also are calculated, smart, talented, and sustainable runners that avoid unnecessary knuckle dragging. I've definitely made a change in the past couple years from the former to the later.

    A perfect example was last weekend when I ran a PR through Cooper Canyon at conversational pace on tired legs. I ran well fueled, paid attention to my breathing, relaxed to a hike when necessary, and felt much less pain than I did on my previous PR. I could have started the segment with an aggressive push down highway 2, short of breathing all the way to the creek, and then struggled up the first climb, unable to pick my feet on the flat sections, finishing with a crawl to the top at Cloudburst. However natural that might have felt, it would've been unsustainable for the day, and I would've spent the next 18 miles cramping, tired, and heavy. Either way, I would finish, but each scenario would've been drastically different for a long term outlook.

    What matters in the sport, is the sustainable pace on race day and in everyday training. I started doing 10 minute intervals this week and found them to be a great vehicle for teaching pacing (besides the obvious getting your body in great shape). Running fast for 10 minutes is hard: it's a long time, it's hard to gauge how much longer you can push hard, and it's a faster pace than a simple 30-45 minute time trial.  Even harder, running 3-6 times 10 minutes requires the duality of focusing on the task at hand during the interval and learning where your edge is as far as ruining the workout and finishing it poorly. A time trial is easy and singular in focus: go hard until you reach the top and deal with consequences tomorrow, but long intervals require sustainability to avoid the embarrassment of slowing down a ton on the last reps.

    100 mile races aren't just won by the most gifted individuals, and now not even 50 mile races are won by youth alone. The sport demands sustainability in moments like the last 10% of a race when the calculated runner reels in leaders in dramatic fashion. It's not something that always happens in a contrasting fashion, but it is something that appears in heart rate data and segment data when a runner appears "to endure" but is really just pacing themselves better and sustaining a consistent pace with less pain. In the long run, the runners that practice this sustainability best, win more races, enjoy more miles, and become the best at riding their edge with less risk of blowup.

    So, with that I'm glad to say that I feel like my training is sustainable right now. I don't feel the need for a rest week of minimal miles, I don't fear the race schedule, and I don't worry about how my fitness is progressing. This is uncharted territory for June.

    Monday: 3 miles over the course of a photo shoot on Mt. Williamson

    Tuesday: Easy 3 miles on Edison Road

    Tuesday PM: Busy day left just a little time in the evening to do the first workout of the tempo phase. Ran 3x1mi just to get the rust off the legs from the weekend and feel out my edge.

    Wednesday: Converstional pace up Temescal with PMR, enjoyable morning

    Thursday PM: slept in an went for an evening tempo workout. 3x10 min up Sullivan ridge was successful, not too easy but no epic blow outs.

    Friday PM: Ran up Mt. Wilson Toll road at sunset and met Katie at Eaton Saddle. No headlamp, no rush, just enjoyed the idyllic night over the city. Dreamed about hitting Sam Merrill at sunset... Someday.

    Saturday: Went out with the intent of hiking strong on my long run, but forgot my poles. Everything went fine out to Baldy, but rolled the ankle on Devil's backbone twice. I pushed the 110v3 proto I've been running in to it's very limit (this is why proto's are done before releasing a shoe), and wore out the grip and fit. The next one due in soon should make rolled ankles less likely, but for the time being I had to stumble and hobble down to the Notch and nine and a half miles back over the technical backbone trails, bruising it a few more times in the process. 19.5 miles and 9,000 ft of gain in 5 hours wasn't so fun due to the heat and ankle, but in the end I was happy to be able to look at it as perfect UTMB training (although Baldy backbone trails are probably more technical).

    Sunday: Slept in a bit and got out for another 3x10 min workout on the Blue Ridge trail. The Pine Pollen was visibly flying off the trees in big gusts and made the altitude and incline as challenging as it could be. I threw in another 2 minute rep at the end to see if I had some firepower in the legs, but alas the previous day's effort was legit.

    Week Recap: 71 miles, 13:45, 20,700 ft.

    It felt good to do some longer intervals and get back in the saddle for week 1 of tempo. I am optimistic.

    Tuesday, May 26, 2015

    May 18-25

    Though the 3 day weekend was a good time as ever to up the mileage for the summer training block, I opted to go long on only 2 of the 3 days to take the 3rd day as a rest day (photo shoot) and make sure I was ready for the next block on interval training I had scheduled myself. It seems like my intuition is to delay volume later and later each year so that I don't injure or burn out before my goal race. That said, the two long days on the AC course were good check-ups to see what is working and what needs work.

    Tour of California, Stage 7 at Mt. Baldy

    Hanging out at the cabin, I had a chance to catch up on the Tour of California replays, and developed some notes on cycling races in the mountains. It's really about figuring out the right time to push based on your abilities and the weaknesses of the field, interpreting breakaways as temporary or permanent, and the belief in one's abilities at a particular moment. 

    The breakaway rider has to remember that if they put time on a chase pack, most of the time the differential will start to shrink (unless it's a short sprint at the end of the race). Failure will be imminent if the breakaway rider doesn't make a decisive break and stay out of sight of the chasers for as long as possible. Once caught, the chase pack has the confidence to pass and put you away said rider. Essentially, breakaways that get caught rarely pull away again and win races.

    Similarly if the shoe is on the other foot and a rider observes a breakaway in process, then it is in their best interest to make it as hard as possible on them to loose visuals. The longer the breakaway rider has to redline, the more likely it is to make their pace setting a mistake. In 2013, this was essentially what I did against Ruperto. By the time we had redlined for 2 miles into Chantry, he was spent and couldn't hold on for the next duel down the toll road.

    The bottom line is confidence matched with the the ability to decipher between discomfort and destructive pain is the key to maximize your chances of winning a duel. If you know the true total time you can spend redlining, have an acute awareness of your counterparts, and maintain the confidence that you can hang tough, then you can pick the best time and place to mount a breakaway or counter one. It won't be a surprise this year on Cal Street when a bearded man starts dropping 16 miles in the 5-7 minute range because it is his ideal terrain and the hardest time for a competitor to challenge him. 

    Easy and short recovery run with Katie to the north of Shortcut Saddle. 
    2.3 mi, 600ft, :30

    Temescal conversational with Elan. I unfortunately slid into a rock shin first on Sunday's run over Pine Mountain and I felt it on the downhill starting to flare up. Luckily it wasn't bad enough to keep me from running uphill, but it was irritated on the long-ish downhill. 
    10mi, 2000ft, 1:31

    Off to save the shin from any prolonged aggravation. 

    I opted for an easy road run in my Fresh Foam Zante and found the shin to be agreeable enough to be mobile but not enough to be silent.
    7.2mi, 200ft, :53

    Off, decided to give the shin one more day.

    Cloud Layer hanging at 7,000 feet on Saturday
    There must have been a dozen or more people running the first 30 miles of the AC course. I opted to sleep in a bit and get underway with Peter, Michael, Katie, and Dave with the intent of running section by section at a sustainable pace. Normally I'd like to really test the legs and see what they can handle, but I want to eventually run the race at a sustainable pace all the way to Altadena. I started off with a 1:40 due to a slow crawl up Acorn. I waited a bit and then ran the next segment to Vincent in a casually reassuring 38. Then I waited at Vincent for the rest of the crew for awhile and then finally decided to head up Baden-Powell at an easy pace. Perhaps it was too long of a break in the cold, or maybe I was a little dejected by the initial 1:40, but I ended up hiking the majority of the climb up BP. We stopped at the top and sent a key down to Katie with another runner before continuing on. I didn't feel good on the Dawson climb, and jogged in to Islip with a stop at Little Jimmy, so the time was nothing remotely close to race pace. The bop over to Eagle's Roost was casual as well. I basically found out that I need to keep working on my climbing at altitude to get where I want to be again, but at least I felt like I could run for many more miles all day.
    31 miles, 8,400ft, 6:00

    Dave and Peter heading off of Baden Powell

    Dave and I shuttled cars while Katie started an hour early on the 30 miles between Eagle's Roost and Shortcut. We did a similar casual run, but at a bit more efficient pace then the day before. Usually I would talk and direct turns for the first part of the section, and run a bit faster on the last mile or two. My moving times of 1:27, :42, :58, :37, and :66 were easier than expected, and ideally what I would want to run and feel like in a race: controlled, conversation pace, and ready to suddenly move quickly whenever necessary.
    30 miles, 4,900ft, 4:56 

    Total: 80.9mi, 16,300ft, 13:55

    Overall, a restful and productive week while maintaining a basic level of volume. The legs felt OK on Monday, and I capitalized on the rest to feel light and free this morning (Tuesday). This upcoming week is going to be long intervals that should knock me out cold initially, but hopefully lead to better times in late June and July on AC training runs. UTMB is still the goal, but I will continue to use occasionally use AC point to point runs a check up runs to measure my fitness, since it's been the ruler for the past few years.