Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's a metaphor, fool.

I read something once that discussed, evolutionarily, why we run (why we do any activity of heavy exertion or focus, really), basing it on an inherent need to find strife and struggle in our modern, mundane, first world. Basically, life is too easy so we invent problems...just so we can solve the problems we invented.

Running, for most of us, is a constant.  I've you've been running regularly for long enough--be it months or years--eventually the act becomes habit. I've never felt the "runner's high," but I have felt newfound peace after a day spent alone in the woods with only my thoughts to keep my company. I love, I cherish ultrarunning because even now, 39 races later, I can find new meaning in familiar places. Running is a metaphor for life, and the converse is true as well. Any run can apply to this, but some do so better than others.

I signed up for Bighorn 50 in January and told a few friends even that day that I planned to win. I've never won anything before, but after a frustrating finale to running at the hypothermic Bear 100 in 2016 and for the first time since I trained for Western States in 2014, I wanted a real goal that required effort to succeed. I toyed with the idea of aiming for the record, though thankfully conditions on race day did not allow any even feigned attempt at that mark, as I think trying for it would have cost me the win.

Anyway, let's get back to the metaphor. Prior to my very first ultra, and long before we became good friends, the venerable Eric Grossman gave me the most trite yet sage wisdom: it doesn't always get worse. The light at the end of the tunnel, the rainbow after the storm, whatever you will; it doesn't always get worse. I camped at the 50 mile start line Friday night with my friend Chrissy, who was also running the 50 mile, so as to see several friends turn around there in the 100 mile race that started that morning and to avoid an abhorrent 1:45 wake-up call for the bus to the start line. On Friday, tracing our way westward along the course, the weather was stellar: blue skies and a little cool (55-60 degrees at Dry Fork compared to 85+ last year). However, as if summoned, as we turned off the highway toward the Jaws trailhead for the night, the rain began. It rained, and it rained, and then it eased off slightly for 20 minutes with a brief lightening of the cloud hues to the west, teasing us, and then it rained some more. It rained as the lead men came through and stayed nearly 30 minutes in the aid station fighting hypothermia, it rained as the only friend I managed to see before my bedtime, Colleen, came in cold but casual halfway through her first hundred. It rained as we broke down our pop tent. It was not raining when we woke up at 4 am for race morning, but by 4:45, the rain had begun again. By the time we stood at the parking lot edge listening to the race director announce "these are [sigh] the worse trail conditions we've seen in the 25 years of the race," sleet was falling.
My friend Leonard, who had paced a friend up in the night to drive my car back to town after we started, told me that afternoon he woke up at 7:30 am to a fresh 3 inches of snow on the car. It doesn't always get worse. 

The director said the magic words and we started running down the road into unknown levels of mud. A group of three of us settled in together as we transitioned to the initial notoriously boggy singletrack that crests the short climb from Jaws. For that first mile, the bogs felt familiar. "It's this muddy every year" I thought. Then we crested the short climb and began the 16 miles of descent to Footbridge. I glanced up searching for a view and fell. Then I fell again. I reache to change songs on my iPod and fell. I shot a glance to gauge my distance to the second aid station and fell. That time I slide a couple feet face first, somehow unhooking the safety pins of my bib and leaving it in the mud. After taking the time to repin my now illegible number, I fought with all my might to stay upright two more miles just to misstep and go down again. Finally I wandered off trail to fertilize some trees and collect myself. I stays there until I had calmed down; being this frustrated 8 miles into 50 could not bode well. It doesn't always get worse. If anyone feels the need to peruse my Strava data, you can actually see the succinct shift from mile nine to mile ten. From then to Footbridge at mile 18, I spent my energy on control, restriction. Staying comfortable and, more importantly, upright. A day later, my arms and core are just as sore and tender as my legs from the work staying upright. Seeing Julia Combs nearly at the aid station was a breath of fresh air and I think our hug was what we both needed then. Seeing Crewmaster Rush Combs at Footbridge, shouting my name through the toothbrush wedged in his mouth, was a much needed relief. The coke he filled my bottle with was even better.

The climb from footbridge to the Bear Camp aid station is notorious at 2,300 feet of gain in about four miles. Last year, at the torrential Rut 50k, I discovered after a certain threshold of muddiness, running provides more purchase than hiking. In a hiking gait, you find yourself precariously tiptoeing upward, placing far too little weight on each footfall. Running by definition places all your weight onto every footfall. Though much more energy intensive, the trade-off is there to run instead of hike if you do not mind the risk of burning out the engine. And, if the fitness is there, the engine only requires enough gasoline to keep burning. I bumped up my food consumption on the climb and afterward to keep the fire going, filling my bottle with coke at every aid station and eating whatever looked best off the table (mostly cheez-its and bacon), being sure to take in a cup or two of caloried fluid before leaving any aid station. I passed who I found of after the race to be Ryan Burch (in the early morning miles, I was paying too much attention failing to stay upright to have any idea who was around me) before both Bear Camp and Cow Camp aid stations only to see him ahead of me not long after leaving, having passed me as I stood around stuffing my face.

The start times for the four Bighorn races (100M, 52M, 32M, 18M) are set up so that runners finish in the park in Dayton, Wyoming throughout the day Saturday. This means that, starting at the furthest away point, we spent the day catching up to the tail end of the other three races. It also meant that I did not know for certain that I was leading (or that I had won) until I checked the results thirty minutes after finishing. I passed people of various distances with obscured bib numbers, many of whom were running very well, and I did not know if they were in my race or not. At Dry Fork, with 18 miles remaining, enough people told me I was the first 50 miler there that I had confidence in the idea, but then several people running around my pace up the road from the aid station that I was again uncertain and knew not to ease up. Plus, somehow, thankfully, the mud significantly eased after Dry Fork, allowing for some actual running. I had told myself leading up to the race, and reminded myself on the slight descent into Upper Sheep Gulch, that if I was leading or even within striking distance when I began the ridiculous 3,500 foot descent to the finish line, I could actually win the damn thing. I trust my ability to beat my quads into submission late in a race; that is one skill I have at very least. I ran down the road to town (a magical road that seems to trend uphill even though it traces a river downstream) as best I could into a solid headwind, and crossed the finish line relieved. I had atually done the thing. I set a goal, made a plan, and even with the universe throwing a wrench into everything, I got it done. Scrolling through results, this is my slowest 50 mile time since 2012 when Mountain Masochist had two feet of wet snow on course, and yet it's the first time I've won.

Somewhere in the narrative I might have lost the metaphor. Sometimes life knocks you down. Sometimes you fall in the mud. Sometimes you fall again and cut yourself, and then fall again to get mud in the wound, but you are not sure if you fell in mud or cow shit, and you feel bad enough that you don't really care which. But if you put your head down and trudge forward, focusing on the little things and taking care of yourself, doing your best to simply stay upright, it won't always get worse. Doing your best ever is irrelevant if your best on the day is what you need. The clouds clear, the sun comes out, and you just keep running.

HUGE thanks to Salomon for providing me with shoes (Sense 6 Softground) that did their best to help in the worst mud I've ever run through and with shorts that held all my goodies through the day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Let's Talk About Drugs

Whenever the discussion of doping comes up, it is overwrought with passion. Runners as a demographic, and particularly ultrarunners, are generally well-educated and socially liberal people in favor of such social adjustments as prison reform. In two conversations about a week apart, a friend of mine supported pardoning non-violent drug offenders and then argued in favor of lifetime bans from sport at a doper’s first offense. What?

Of course, doping is a more personal topic within this community, likely making it easier to discuss standard drug law and ethics in the hypothetical, keeping passion and any personal affectation out of the discussion. Perhaps the majority of the issues regarding any real conversation about doping come from ambiguities and arbitrarity found in all aspects of doping, from substance control and banning lists to enforcement and follow-up on the parts of both athlete and federation.

I went on a run this winter with two good friends, both scientifically minded and generally logical people, one of a front-of-mid-pack guy and the other a sponsored athlete. This was not long after a previously-busted athlete entered The North Face 50 Mile Championships in San Francisco in December 2015 and The North Face made a vague, placid statement opposing drugs in sport. As occasionally happens on long runs, the conversation turned to drugs in sport. My sponsored friend emphatically proclaimed (and, to be clear, rightfully so) that dopers are taking money from the pockets of clean athletes and should be banned—a fair, though simplistic point.

But then, who is a doper, and how should they be both caught and punished? Let’s  define a doper as someone who uses a substance banned by the governing body of their sport, just as a criminal is someone who commits a  crime--this removed ethics and hypotheticals from the equation to focus on reality. Generally this governing body is regarded as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as well as, through some overlap of governing abilities, the IAAF (International Association of  Athletics Federations).  But, to further bureaucratic confusion, all of the IAAF’s subsidiaries such as the USATF, which then has its own brother anti-doping agency, the USADA, which is best known for its aggressive handling of the Lance Armstrong scandal.

Okay then, fine, what is WADA in charge of? Basically, any IAAF-sanctioned event, and this works effectively (relatively) at the international high-stakes level of track and field, marathons, and the like: The Diamond League in Europe, the Olympics (which is technically run by the International Olympic Committee, an entity that can veto an IAAF ban if they choose), the World Marathon Majors, the various ultra-distance world championships (which are separately governed by the IAU [International Association of Ultrarunners]), Comrades Marathon, and so forth. These all are subjected to criteria to maintain IAAF-sanctioned status, and with that stamp comes the support of those entities with regards to drug testing.

Watch the winner come through the finish line of any major marathon in the world, and you will see them swiftly handed a bottle of water and then followed around the finish area by an entourage that contains as least one anti-doping official there to keep an eye on the athlete until the athlete pees in a cup for them, as they watch. Then the athlete has to—as was well documented by Ellie Greenwood on her blog following her 2014 IAU World 100k victory—provide their whereabouts every day for at least the following year so that their assigned anti-doping official can surprise them—within an athlete-chosen hour window each day—at work, home, on a date, or at their mother’s funeral with a follow-up test for which the official stays by the athlete’s side until the athlete provides another urine sample.

Well, that is a doozy. However, it does bring us to the inherent issues of anti-doping control trail and ultrarunning, two sports which are, even with all their recent growth, fringe. Even if many of us glue ourselves to Twitter the last weekend every June, to be blunt the IAAF simply does not care about the Western States Endurance Run. UTMB recently had its first experience with true, confirmed doping by one of the race’s competitors and, because of the apparent delay in issuing a statement, I have a feeling the UTMB race organization was somewhat taken aback by the  doping, unsure of what their next step should be. The athlete in question, Gonzalo Castilo, placed 5th at UTMB in 2015 and received a 2 year IAAF ban the following Spring due to a positive test result from his finish line blood test at the 2015 UTMB--a ban that will end on March 17, 2017 (which is not actually 2 years from his infraction). Following the incident, the UTMB race organization released a statement revoking Gonzalo’s race finish.

Aside from those few high profile events that take anti-doping measures seriously and have the resources to back it up, such as UTMB, doping is such a small blip on the radar for the entities that govern competitive running with enough power to actually make a difference that no difference is made. The majority of hundred mile races, regardless of public notoriety, simply do not have the resources to implement any form of doping control, let alone a process that would actually be effective.  When I, considering starting a race, looked at the financials of a grassroots but consistently sold-out ultramarathon in the same area as mine to assess viability for myself, I noticed the director netted (and subsequently donated) barely more than $2000 from 200 entry fees; this shows we are a sport of passion and one where the money to implement doping control is nonexistent. The only company, or at least the first company to come to mind, that could financially implement drug control in the United States is The North Face to their series of races, but then athletes with something to hide could simply pass over these races in favor of a payday elsewhere. We are a sport where notoriety does not go hand in hand with financial incentive; I am sure plenty of athletes would choose Hardrock’s vistas over possibly winning Run Rabbit Run’s $12,000 first place paycheck.

A secondary issue of doping control comes with definition and ambiguity; even if all ultra-distance athletes out there believes themselves to be clean, they could still end up with a ban. The WADA ban list has 147+ substances on it that are prohibited at all times, and another list of comparable substances banned in competition only. This is a list all athletes entering appropriately-sanctioned races are expected to know and adhere to. The big offenders are easy to pick out (erythropoietin, testosterone, human growth hormone, etc.). However, if you delve below the surface, there is a lot more confusion in substance profiling (DHEA and beta alanine for example). The simple question: why are certain substances banned and other ones not? From my simple second list above, DHEA will be discussed later. Beta Alanine is itself an amino acid that the human body can derive from animal proteins. When supplemented, it has been clearly shown to boost athletic performance—specifically VO2 Max [1]. If you’d like, you can order beta alanine in large quantities from your online retailer of choice.

In an hour of reading on the WADA website, I could not find a clear definition of why substances in general are placed on the prohibition list—and to be clear I mean specific statements, not a list of vision statements; the ‘Q&A’ page gives a thorough breakdown of certain substances, but honestly I have no idea why these substances were chosen over others. So, let’s make our own clear reason, one that hopefully we can all agree on: the basis for prohibition is (or should be) simple: a substance provides an unfair competitive advantage and/or unnecessary health risk to the athlete; I include the second portion due to the risks inherent in use of certain PEDs outside of their intended use. For example, outside of sport (in its intended medical uses) erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone produced by the kidneys to promote red blood cell production, supplementation is common for severe anemia and various diseases that cause issues with blood filtration such as Crohn’s disease. Supplementation, however, is meant to bring depleted levels back within normal limits, not to increase them above normal. Supplementing EPO within the realm of performance enhancement—to boost red blood cell levels above normal for enhanced performance has significant associated health risks such as myocardial infarction, stroke, and venous thromboembolism [2]. Basically, the human body does not like having too much EPO. Athletes, at least at the elite level, likely attempt to eschew these risks by using the boost of red blood cells to increase training load to a level that would otherwise lower their count to an unhealthy low, effectively forcing their own anemic and subsequent normalized state, similar to the dip and spike found in medical patients utilizing EPO.

Interestingly, in my reading across the WADA website, the second question on the ‘Q&A’ page caught my eye, which is regarding plasmapheriesis (plasma transference—both donation and reception—in which they state that “for the donor, plasmapheresis is prohibited under M1.1 because the donor’s own red blood cells (and other blood components) are being reintroduced into the circulatory system after the plasma has been separated.” A friend of mine, who is a reasonably competitive athlete, donates plasma as often as he is allowed--plasma is often in shortage and many people do not want to donate plasma, as the process is more involved than simple blood donation and takes quite a bit more time. I know he is not doing this for any competitive advantage, and I am confident he is not even aware that he is now banned from any WADA-supervised competition—oh no!

Though I do not believe my friend would qualify for the following, this is a good segue to the only way around the prohibition list: therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs). These were made famous in particular by Galen Rupp and other Nike athletes’ usage of prescribed thyroid medication over the last several years--thyroid medication is sometimes argued as preventing endocrine fatigue common in endurance running. However, let’s look at the other side of the coin. In 2014, the United States Anti-Doping Administration (USADA) disqualified Kristi Anderson, a 51-year-old woman who won her age group but then failed her post-race drug test. The disqualifying substance? DHEA, a natural over-the-counter supplement any of us could drive to a pharmacy and purchase in large quantities right now. Kristi was recommended DHEA by a medical doctor following a visit and bloodwork that showed “low DHEA, practically nonexistent testosterone and low estrogen,” all of which is in line with her complaints of adrenal fatigue and menopausal symptoms. Technically, Anderson should have been aware of this substance being banned and should have either not taken it or applied for a TUE with the USADA, which seems strange because by her own admittance, Kristi is not even a member of the USATF [3]. Why should she care about all of these acronyms anyway? Kristi, and anyone else with a USADA ban, can run most any race—trail or road, ultra-distance or shorter—they please (at that race’s discretion of course) as the USATF’s reach is short and most races do not fall under its banner.

Up until 2004, caffeine was considered a banned substance by the WADA. A common series of arguments I’ve heard for defining performance-enhancing drugs is they are designed and created in a lab, they are not commonly taken (meaning daily-type supplementation) substances, and they are not natural. The first and third go hand in hand, and without (I hope) opening Pandora’s box I reject both of them with the changes regarding marijuana: a substance once fully banned by the WADA, marijuana is now only banned in-competition. The second one--that substances are not commonly taken--I can empathize with but have to reject, and caffeine is a great scapegoat for this thought experiment. Caffeine is a previously banned substance. This is a stimulant that is such an afterthought to modern society that there is not even an age-restriction on its purchase or use. A five year old can walk down to the corner store and get hopped up on 40oz coffee before kindergarten, and yet at until 2004 international sport deemed caffeine to provide an unfair advantage or be unsafe for sport.

For a minute, I ask you to forget all your prejudices against EPO. Just bear with me, this will be over soon. Imagine that we lived in a society that highly valued running long distances. EPO usage was so common that the majority of Americans make sticking that needle in their ass a part of their morning routine—right before they pour themselves some coffee. Everyone runs a 2:10 marathon, but they have to check in with their doctor ensure they are not close to stroking out from their morning EPO shot. Once a year, some teenager makes national news for taking a little too much and ending up in the hospital, but other than that, there is little repercussion to this rampant, doctor-aware usage of EPO.

That doesn’t sound too terrible or scary, right?

The point all of this is supposed to make is: where is the line? What should and should not be banned from sport? And my answer is: regardless of everything I just laid out, I have no fucking idea. But I do know that the current list and the current system are in need of serious reform.

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3429803/

[2] http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/ucm267698.htm
[3] http://masterstrack.com/kristi-anderson-oh-god-go-oprah/

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bighorn 100 Race Report--These Will Never Get Shorter, Sorry.

Grindstone 2012—the last time a hundred mile race that I attempted went well. I suffered to a finish at Cruel Jewel in 2013 aided only by the generous cut-off there, and at Western States last year I hobbled along for 70 miles to what—while still a decent time—was not what I had either hoped or was trained up for.  So, while Bighorn this year was not without hiccups—it is a hundred miles after all—it is what I’d call a very well executed run and, individually, my best executed in a long time. After feeling stagnant and a bit without direction for the past year with my running I feel like I’m back finally.

Something felt right about this weekend—start to finish; an intangible feeling of just being at ease and comfortable.  A leisurely drive up to Sheridan, Wyoming on Thursday led into a lazy evening with friends—over thirty of us were sharing two houses for the weekend—and I woke up Friday morning later than I would have on any other Friday after a solid nine hours of sleep. 

The only real issue for the entire weekend reared its head early into running on Thursday.  The hundred at Bighorn starts at 11 a.m., opening with a long climb up a canyon into the oppressive mid-June heat.  This year was hot, the opposite of all weather beta I’d been warned of for Bighorn (mainly to be prepared for true cold at night)—someone told me Saturday that the temperature broke 100 in the canyons and, confusingly for the Rockies, there was humidity along with the heat. Trotting up the first climb that rose nearly 3400 feet at what, in the dense heat, was a frustratingly runnable climb that I was not running, I actually had trouble breathing, feeling similar to asthma though I have never suffered from asthma. I assumed, foolishly, that the heat would mellow as we made the ridgeline well above 7000 feet. It did not.  The heat followed us through the day onto the north side of the broad Bighorn mountain range.

I ran for a couple hours through this section with my bro Ryan Lassen, and we joked about seeing someone sitting on the edge of the trail, cooked and nauseas, at only mile 15. In true karmic timing, for almost two hours starting at mile 18, I puked. I puked up basically anything and everything; even swigs of water came up within minutes.  Thankfully, even though I was concerned, my only ‘DNF’ thoughts came in the form of “well if I pee blood I’m calling it.” The seething fears of inability never crept in. Thankfully after crawling barely six flat miles in that whole time I managed to force down a Zantac, and in about thirty more minutes I felt famished.  I cruised down the steep, technical descent to the Footbridge aid station at mile 30 running on fumes but confused as to why all the people I saw on the descent were walking down it. At footbridge, well over my split projections, my good friend Rush, there hanging out until his runner made it back from the turnaround, quickly put me back together with a pile of potatoes and watermelon—I was likely much easier to handle than our friend Tim who, running his first hundred miler here, immediately upon entering the aid station passed out and puked on himself like a scene from Pulp Fiction.

Three RMR—Tim, John Knotts, and Neeraj—left that aid as I was wrapping up my dinner of sorts and still had a few minutes of prep before I would follow. This was actually a nice progression for me as I enjoy chasing people—it is great motivation—and I was coming around from my heat-induced nausea, ready to do some real running into the long eighteen mile climb up to the turnaround at Jaws.  I worked up that climb methodically, not pushing but maintaining a solid cadence and effort, stuffing my face as I went. I managed to catch back up to several RMR at the aid station prior Jaws whom I had not expected to see until much later in the race—this provided a nice boost for the frustratingly slow last few flatter miles into the turnaround at mile 48.

At the turnaround, Keely and Elena got to work cementing themselves into possibly the best crew I’ve had. Elena made several trips to the food table, fulfilling my various whimsical requests while Keely got to work cleaning my feet and replacing my shoes and socks, refusing to actually let me do it myself so I could focus on eating and getting out the door. Planning for actually appropriate Bighorn weather, I donned a long-sleeve shirt and glove, packed my fantastic Nike Terra Kiger jacket into my pack, and headed out into the night with Keely in-tow.  I lost the gloves in the first mile and slid my sleeves up not long after, wishing I was running sans-pack so I could go shirtless as the temperature felt warmer in the long, dark downhill than it did in the previous dusk-lit climb.

Keely and I—though looking back I am disappointed in the actual splits for the initial lengthy downhill—made nice work of our time together all the way to Dry Fork (Mile 83).  Most of the time I left headphones off and just enjoyed the conversation with one of my best friends, cruising along and picking off people and ticking off miles as we went. I ate well at the Footbridge aid station in preparation for the initial steep, then gradual uphill trend of the next 16 miles.  This aid station seemed littered with dejected athletes seeking out whatever magic might keep them moving forward. Bad Juju. We ate and bolted up the steep climb toward the next aid station—2000 feet in 3.5 miles; which, while standard on a usual daily run, is truly a cold bitch at mile 66.  This is where the headphones came back. My ipod was on point for the majority of its choices through Bighorn and gave me a solid mix of Dead Kennedys, Blink-182, and Kap Slap to power up the climb without any thought to how hard I was likely working. I knew the entire race leading up to this point that, no matter how I felt at this point, this climb would be hard. So, since I felt good, I decided to overwork and get it done with as quickly as possible. 

Out of the aid station following that climb, We trotted along again, elated at how smoothly that had gone and reveling in the early morning dawn rising up from the long canyon as we traced our way toward Dry Fork.  Only two hiccups arose through the entire section with Keely—one after another.  At the next to last true aid station before Dry Fork, I accepted some soup that ended up being entirely too saturated and came right back up not even five minutes after leaving the aid station.  Then, we somehow blew right past the (fantastic) spring that counted as the next aid station. No big matter, just a little added incentive to move faster (or, as is the case in a 100 miler, less slow).

Dry Fork was the last true stop of the race for me.  Changing into some fresh Nike Lunaracers I was truly smelling the barn. [Editors note: ‘barn’ initially read ‘bar’ as a typo. Take your pick.] I left everything behind here aside from a single Simple Hydration bottle filled with rocket fuel (slightly diluted Mountain Dew—my fuel for the remainder of the race). Elena and I charged out at a steady clip, keenly aware of the meager 3:03 remaining for 18 miles to slip under 24 hours.  I have to say: road flats feel fan-fucking-tastic during the tail end of a 100, particularly on forgiving dirt roads. The final descent of this went slower than I had hoped, feeling much, much, much steeper on the return descent than as the opening climb a day prior. I had no quad issues, but I just felt very uncomfortable at my fatigue level attempting to lean into the descent…at all.

Elena and I hit the road with 35 minutes left to run the five final road miles and finish under 24 hours and I decided I wanted it—a laughable thought in hindsight; we surged down the road as hard as I could muster (which, looking back, was only about 7:30/mile).  Fairly quickly, Elena decided she didn’t feel like running that pace (I’m not counting this as having dropped her) and I was running alone. I passed Silke and her entourage en-route to a killer first female finish with about 3.5 miles to go, and met Keely coming to meet me from the finish with about 2.5 miles to go. Meeting her forced me to accept that sub-24 hours was unreasonable and I settled into a lazy walk toward the finish line, only jogging from time to time as the last person I had passed on the road came close to catching back up to me.  We trotted across the finish line with 24:11 on the clock—only 18 minutes from my 100-mile PR and performed on a much harder course.


Looking back, I am so pleased with finally being able to execute a race well, regardless of where the times fell in comparison to my initial time goals. I am publishing this report so late as I wanted time to muse on the race and let my true feelings regarding my run simmer over the subsequent weeks. This race gave my some excitement to finally get back to work and find my racing legs again.  There are a couple races in the fall that have piqued my interest.



Gear:
Simple Hydration Bottles
Ultimate Direction Jurek Pack
RMR Pearl Izumi Singlet (hey Patagucci, make some green singlets please)
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (tried and true, never going back)
Random socks
2 different pairs of La Sportiva Bushidos (due to mud) and Nike Lunaracers
Gas Station American Flag Cap

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Quick Red Hot 55k Run-down

A top-10 list of some takeaways from Saturday.
  1. Slickrock is frustrating.
  2. 7:20 pace is the warm-up.
  3. Slickrock is basically an oven.
  4. Japanese runners love KT tape on their knees.
  5. Ibuprofen is an essential nutrient.
  6. Every ultra should have Mountain Dew.
  7. Steep climbs are difficult after 20+ flat, fast miles.
  8. Sand gets everywhere.
  9. 75 degrees feels oppressive in February; no matter what.
  10. I want a shirt that says 'red meat athlete #runonbeef'
Saturday was fun, though I was distinctly unprepared for what the slickrock gave me.  Not much happened really; once I got to the slickrock at mile 20-21, my body just wouldn't really do what I wanted it to do. Likely this was a combination of low calories and my hips being locked into their stride from those first 20-21 cruiser miles.  Running on the slickrock felt akin to performing plyometrics. For twelve miles. 

I'm much more stoked about what the RMR ladies pulled off and what my Hokie friends did back in Virginia at Holiday Lake. They had four guys under four hours. Unreal.  The weekend as a whole makes me want to get my ass in gear. I see lots of circles on an oval in my future. 17 weeks until Bighorn. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

That Good Good: Healthy Fats Pasta Sauce

I haven't posted anything food-related in quite some time. This was just too delicious (and simple) to not share though.  I had a weird, rather specific craving for pasta and avocado and spicy food for lunch so out this idea came. Cream-based sauces with a bit of spice are about my favorite on pasta, so here you go! I made this with what I had laying around, it would easily be tweaked, so please share any suggestions! (That means you Kristen)



Ingredients:

  • One ripe hass avocado
  • ~1/2 can of coconut milk (mine was the bottom half, so mostly solid & meatier)
  • ~1/4 stick of butter (adjust to preferred creaminess)
  • Healthy dose of curry powder (I went with Ghost Curry from Savory in Boulder)
Add half your butter to a sauce pan and melt over low-medium heat. Square the avocado and add to the sauce pan. Mash vigorously (I need a better word there). Add the coconut milk and curry powder and blend well, leaving small chunks of the avocado for texture. Simmer for 7-8 minutes.  Add and mix the last half of the butter right before serving to enhance the creaminess without risking it browning. 

I'm currently eating this with a delicious organic rotini from Costco, and it tastes similar to mac n cheese, but I actually like it more.

Quick and dirty blog post, cheers.

With Uptown Funk blowing up, I thought I'd post a classic.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hellgate 2014: Drive

I decided a year ago, nearly to the day, that regardless of circumstance I would run Hellgate in 2014.  It is a very special race--this gets said quite a bit in the weeks surround the event but that may just be the best way to describe Hellgate simply.  I skipped last year in order to crew Rudy and end my year a little earlier than normal after my focus on the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile in November.  Watching the race unfold that night and day, driving along the parkway with good friends, I decided I would come back this year, and possibly every year from then on. Hellgate simply has some special atmosphere about it that is nothing short of intoxicating.

The course is the brainchild of Dr. David Horton, and in trying to describe it to some friends (of varying levels of attachment to the sport and even just mountains) I came to the following few conclusions:
  • Years after he could not create the exact Mountain Masochist course he wished (The gnarly Appalachian Trail section from the James River to the Tye River, he discovered the subtly brutal Glenwood Horse Trail
  • The entire event is designed to be as difficult as possible. It starts at midnight. The climbs are road; the descents are tight, rocky trail barely visible through the thick of leaves strewn across it. You hit the highest, coldest, windiest section of the course (Camping Gap through Headforemost Mountain) at 2-5 a.m., the coldest part of the night.
  • The course becomes extremely runnable after Bearwallow Gap, but is so mentally jarring (see "Forever Section") that it takes whatever will you can muster after so many hours of forward travel to do so.
That describes the thing pretty thoroughly.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A lofty tome--Western States 100

Miles 0 to 29.7 (Robinson Flat)--The Decline

The day started as everyone tells me hundreds should--frustratingly mellow. I spend the first mile searching for someone I knew (of) to settle in with for the first four mile climb.  I was hoping for a lead woman, figuring they know well what they're doing here.  Initially I foolishly picked Emily Harrison, a mistake that immediately remedied itself as she sauntered up ahead weaving her way through the crowd. At this same time I noticed Stephanie Howe vanish somewhere behind me. With no other women nearby, I heard the bellowing of Andy Jones-Wilkins a bit up the hill and ran up to meet him. I followed him and Scott Wolfe up toward the pass and the three of us, along with a varying group of 8-15 others, made our way all the way to Duncan Canyon (mile 23.8), the first crew point.  I felt fine through here, albeit sleepier than I would have expected. I still hadn't woken up, but I did not want to start taking caffeine for at least fourteen more miles so I could keep it better balanced late in the race. I saw Rudy/Wyatt/Darren, dropped my bottle and picked up my pack. I headed out and regained my general forward momentum, but didn't really feel right.  I felt a refined combination of sluggishness and forced restraint--I did feel as if I was holding back but at the same time that I couldn't really speed up any if I had wanted.  Then, not even two minutes from Robinson Flat, my right hamstring cramped, bringing me swiftly to a halt.  Fuck. I took two salt tabs before even getting into the aid station, where I was 4 lbs down before the heat of the day.  I topped off my pack, downed some light soda (7UP I believe) and was on my way.

Miles 29.7 to 55.7 (Michigan Bluff)--Ebb and Flow

I left the aid station in dichotomous spirits.  I wanted to pick things up and try to make some ground before my hamstring got any worse.  I wanted to take it easy in hopes of the hamstring turning around.  I chose the latter.  The miles into Dusty Corners (Mile 38) were unfocused but uneventful. I meandered through the woods, moving well but still with forced restraint.  Another salt tab here kept the cramps at bay, but I had freaked myself out enough by the cramp and weight loss at Robinson Flat that I drank nearly 70 oz during these eight miles and ended up behind on calories, regardless of the soda I pounded at both aid stations. I shifted the equilibrium enough that I was nearing the end of my  day's gel use already.  At Dusty Corners I took time to fill my pack with ice and water (in that order), reapply bodyglide, and douse myself with cold sponge water.

As an aside, I also had my biggest frustrations out of this aid station. A crotchety old man in a volunteer shirt (who was not actually doing anything productive) yelled at my crew to move while they were helping me with my pack well within crew limits and immediately before the sign designating those limits, which we showed him.  Then he growled something at me about sunscreen after I was already 30 feet out of the aid station.  The whole thing left a bad taste in everyone's mouths.

Anyway...
I left Dusty Corners with a plan of simply surviving the Canyons. The heat never presented its notorious self, but I did not rebound until mile 50, well out of the supposedly hot sections.  I grunted along, fighting the downhills rather than working them as I had planned.  My quads weren't blown, but my energy was low enough that I didn't have it in me to to get real turnover going.  MY body finally gave up on gels about five minutes up the climb to Devil's Thumb--stellar timing to not get any food in my system. I fumbled my way up that hellacious climb (I actually don't think it would be that bad with any energy).  I sat in that aid station for a minute to put down four cups of ginger ale, again fill my pack with ice and water, apply sunscreen, fill a bag with potatoes and pretzels, and again douse myself with water.  Half a mile later, knowing the real heat to be done and recently watering some trees, I finally took two ibuprofen. In retrospect I should have kept with my standard schedule regardless of any heat worries; 48 miles is longest I had run without ibuprofen in maybe two years, and I never take very much. At about this same time, I met up with another youngster, James Bonnett at a poorly marked intersection and ran a mile or two with him until my ibu kicked in.  Then I had the best stretch all day. I finally RAN a descent--not just trotting but an actually higher cadence downhill gait.  Feeling so rejuvenated, I stayed the El Dorado aid station only long enough to get more salt tabs, pretzel/potato goodness, and another dousing. I worked my way up the climb to Michigan Bluff, the first time all day at which I had energy enough to work up a climb rather than simply survive.  I did have a number more hamstring cramps and a couple calf cramps through this section, but a salt tab after each instance seemed to keep them from getting worse.  From working my way up the climb to Michigan Bluff, I developed a light strain in my big toes from excess work on toe-off. John Vonhoff was working this aid station, so I could not turn down the suggestion of having him work on my feet.  He filed and taped some calluses, and the PT working with him re-taped my inflamed left anterior tib. New socks and shoes on and having spent the better part of ten minutes chowing down while getting pampered, I left here hungry.

Miles 55.7 to 79.8
Heading to Foresthill was uneventful. I was rejuvenated and felt like making some progress; I at least feel as if I ran well here; meeting Wyatt (Earp) at Bath Road 60 miles in. At Foresthill, the staff weighed my yet again, which had held steady for the fourth straight weight check.  This aid station was, however, overwhelmingly busy even though there were only a couple other runners around me.  The sheer number of staff members far overpowered and hindered their abilities, and not letting my crew go with me to the food tables (what?) severely limited what we could do here.  After pitter-pattering around for a minute, Darren snuck in, grabbed food for me and they all kicked us out.  I truly stretched my legs out on the next couple miles of road and buffed trail.  However, somewhere around Cal 1 (I honestly do not remember if it came before or after the aid), I hopped aboard the barf train, which I would ride for quite some time.  Usually I look forward to puking--puking means a fresh start, and usually it means being able to wolf down copious amounts of food and liquid and run hard for a little while. That didn't happen.  This puke meant the end of coherence. I dove head first into a several mile decline into full zombie mode. The immediate effects came as very tender quads and radiant pain from my tweaked ankle. At Cal 2 I just took what Earp gave me, sat for a minute to force down what I could, and then we stumbled our way to the river.  People talk about Michigan Bluff or Foresthill being a time-suck, but I'd wager that the river-Green Gate strip tops it with its three aid stations in under two miles. I stopped at each of them. Weight check held us up on the near side, then so did drying off on the far side as the water felt rather cold late at night.  At Green Gate I succumbed to a ten minute nap, giving a final attempt at turning my race around.  I couldn't even fall asleep.

Miles 79.8 to 100.2
At Greengate, after my poor nap attempt, Darren stepped up during his first ever 100 mile crew/pace gig.  He took off my wet shoes/socks, wiped off my feet with his T-shirt, and then gave me his socks. That is going above and beyond. After some light snacking, off we went into the abyss. This is where I just shut down and did everything I could to put one foot in front of the other.  As we left the aid station, I put my headphones in and shut out everything aside from Darren's feet; feet that I would follow unconditionally for the next fourteen miles.  Occasionally I would have to stop hunched over and heave either from my ankle or from my stomach.  Darren and I actually made really good work the first six or seven miles out from Green Gate, passing a number of people and running most of the section. I was not by any means coherent though--I may as well have been black out drunk frankly. Apparently Hal Koerner was working Brown's Bar (mile 90) and helped me at the aid station for a couple minutes.  I had and still have no recollection of this whatsoever.  These last few aid stations following Green Gate went as follows: Hunch over table, groan in pain, stare at food, grunt at aid station workers, pick up pretzels and soda, stumble out to looks of real concern on everyone's faces.

At Highway 49 I switched Darren for Rudy, fresh off his hundred debut eight days prior. I nearly broke down when, as I tried to sit in a chair to take weight off my ankle while I ate, Rudy forced me out of there.  Given how close I ended up being to 24-hours, I am glad he did.  I have a distinct feeling the aid station crew did not want me to leave.  We stumbled along, working very hard to go very slow, and after half a life time ended up at no hands bridge. I finally started smelling the barn here and even jogged a little of the climb up to Robie Point.  I was so elated to hit Robie Point that I started shutting down a little early.  Hitting the pavement rippled emotions through my body as well as new waves of pain from my ankle. I groaned and grunted and hobbled my way through Auburn; Rudy, Wyatt, and Darren in tow mirroring just how slowly I was moving at this point. Aside from a few steps here and there, I did not truly run until I hit the track, at which point I ran every step to the finish line.

After finishing I really did shut down.  I felt, and apparently looked, like I was going through withdrawals after my swift collapse onto a cot in the med tent.  However, a 90 minute nap later and I didn't feel nearly as awful. I needed help to walk all morning, unable to put pressure on my ankle, but I ate three breakfasts and slept whenever I pleased.  That morning was nice.


What worked:
-Simple Bottle dedicated for pouring water over my head
-Hot Weather Drymax Socks--not a single blister into Michigan Bluff (where i then switched socks)
-Pack--I filled it with ice and then water, and this kept me cool inside and out.
-Salt Pills--I rarely need them in races, and as such I didn't even think about taking any until it was too late.  I had planned to start them as I headed into the canyons; I should have been taking them all day.

What didn't work:
-Crew set-up at aid stations--My crew was world class, but they were hindered far too much from doing their jobs.
-Starting slow*
-Not wearing sunglasses--I never like them while running, but the dust had me wishing for eye protection.
-Shoe order--I should have worn my trail shoes for the high country and then switched into my cushioned road shoes for the second half.

*Western States is a deceptively straightforward and easy course (for mountain races).  Thinking about this going in, I intentionally restrained myself from the start rather than simply running.  Next time, I won't let the ease of the course trick me and I'll just go.

Conclusions:

I think my biggest take-away from Western States is to have faith that I can go the distance in one piece.  Having only completed three now, I still get overwhelmed, however subconsciously, by the distance and that in itself holds me way back from performing how I know I can at the distance and also actually hurts me.  I am now a week out from possibly running Hardrock; and if I do get in, I plan to just go.


Edit:
I realized in some post-writing speculation that this may come off as a negative review.  On the contrary, I simply had a bad day on a gorgeous course.  Even the volunteers were phenomenal overall, with only the few hiccups mentioned above.