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.

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.


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.

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.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Some Last Ruminations

I finally had the moment this morning when everything became real.  Trying to set up crew directions with four tabs open for various bits of information regarding the logistics of crewing in the high country at Western States, I had the near electric feeling of excitement pulse through my body that the day is finally here. twelve days it is.  I have had that feeling a few times over the past month now; when I get into a distinct rhythm of hard work late into workouts.  Excitement that physically manifests itself outward until I cannot help but smile and work just a little harder.

Yesterday wrapped up my final real training week leading up to the Western States hundred on June 28th.  I have been working with the venerable States veteran Andy Jones-Wilkins whom I met last year after his move to Virginia.  This is the first time I have had a coach--or gotten any real coaching advice--since high school cross country and track several years ago.  Admittedly, he is also likely the only person I know who coaches whom I feel trusting enough to have as a coach for Western States.

He has trained me rather differently than I would have done on my own--the most notable shift being not only the number of workouts down (36 since we started in January) but the inclusion of a weekly post-long run tempo.  That is not something I would likely have done on my own; I have followed the standard back-to-back(-to-back) long run approach in my past hundred mile build-ups, but the workouts have left me feeling strong and improved my closing speed in my spring tune-ups and I know they will do the same in California in a couple weeks.  I can get the legs turning over easier thinking that I have run hard under much more uncomfortable conditions (like hammering out 8 miles the day after Promise Land and again three weeks later after a 40 mile long run).

I have been in Colorado for nearly a full month now, and that has also had an immensely positive effect on my training, an effect especially shown in my running up Pikes Peak in 3:18 (including pit stops) on Saturday morning.  A pretty uninspiring time--I have always been a bad uphill runner--but I was able to run uphill comfortably the entire way; only taking occasional short hiking breaks instead of long stretches.  Being here has balanced out my training as well.  The past five weeks have all been above fifteen hours, with the past four weeks above sixteen.  Of those five weeks, only the first has been below ~16,000 feet of gain on the week; which while somewhat low by the standards of hundred mile training needs to take into account the low-gain days inherent to doing road tempo runs and track workouts.  The past two weeks in Colorado have both been above comfortably 20,000 feet.

I have spent my time in Colorado in the great company of Rudy and Darren, both of whom are on top of their game and ready to WIN their races this weekend--Rudy at Bighorn 100 and Darren at San Juan Solstice 50.  They are both extremely focused, well-trained, and healthy right now; a combination that has had them unabashedly kicking my ass up mountains day in and day out for several weeks now and forcing me to find a few extra gears.  Spending the last couple weeks camping has gotten us all poised to strike.  The days have been filled with nothing but running and resting. We have already read a small library's worth of books this summer in between naps. I will definitely be channeling some energy from crewing and pacing Rudy this weekend when I grunt my way through the canyons a week later.

The more I study Western States, the better I feel about the race and that it will most definitely play to my strengths.  The only true unknown for me is the heat.  I have not run an ultra above the upper 80's with high humidity that happen at Iron Mountain.  However, I will have nearly three weeks of heat training done, most of which has consisted of sauna sessions.  I have another week or so of sauna training and I am already up to 45 minutes without intense distress.  The rest of the course variables, well outlined in Joe Uhan's recent iRunFar article, play to my strengths.  The way of the game is start easy and then begin working after halfway.  That's how I always run races, and in a hundred miler there is actually real estate at the end to keep hunting for a long time.  I see myself sitting comfortably in the top 50 heading into the canyons, and then picking people off for as long as I can.

Even the canyons hold a nice advantage for my style.  As I said earlier, I am an admittedly terrible uphill runner. As such, I know how to hike--I have to in order to not completely fall of pace.  The climbs out of the canyons are just my style and what I got extremely used to running in Blacksburg the past several years: under 2 miles and steep. Walls.  We have them all over our little training grounds in the New River Valley.

Virginia Tech Ultrarunning has finally made the pilgrimage out west, and we are here to tear it up.


In case anyone is curious, and since I already have things set; here is what I'll be using for gear, etc. at Western States

Shoes: Nike Lunaracer 3 (with Salomon Sense Pro's on hand just in case)
Socks: 2 pairs of Drymax warm weather
Shorts: Patagonia Strider Pro 5" Shorts
Shirt: ultraVT Patagonia Air Flow Tank jersey
Hydration: 2 Simple Hydration bottles tucked in my shorts and sometimes a Mountain Hardwear race vest with bladder with one of the simple bottles in the front pocket.
Food: I have a lot of salted caramel, salted watermelon, and various Roctane Gu's on hand, as well as grape Roctane drink (which is delicious).  Aside from that, I plan to enjoy the Western States buffet!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Firsts and Lasts: Promise Land 50k

I've said it before and I'll say it again--I am a closer.  I'm content to not race a 50k again for a while as I really need to figure out how to start hard enough to remain competitive at the distance. I find it amusing now, several years into running ultras that I consider 50k's too fast--or really, any ultra distance too fast.

Doing our usual pre-race discussions in the week leading up to Promise Land this year, Rudy and I decided to go out hard and try to keep with the lead.  Rudy can do that--he's on fire right now and generally faster than me anyway.  I have yet to figure out how to do an uphill start hard.  In recent memory, I have only started two races hard--StumpJump and Holiday Lake--both of which have very flat starts.  I kept up with them for the first 12 minutes or so of the climb, with Jake Reed well out of sight, before I had to pull back and start my hike-run.  That's that.  I wouldn't see them the rest of the day.

When I hit the long grassy road that overlaps the Hellgate course, my race plans changed abruptly.  Puke #1, out of nowhere.  Weird, I don't feel bad.  Not long before aid station two 9 miles in I had puke #2.  Switch to coke in my bottle, hoping that settles things.  Grunt my way up to the parkway not feeling bad but not eating.

My plan had been to switch gears into racing when I hit the Blue Ridge Parkway ~11 miles in, taking advantage of the extremely long downhill to come.  When I did hit the parkway in-race, I had not had any real calories--just the cup of coke in my bottle--since mile 5.  I decided then I would just stick with my original plan and hope to out-run my eventual bonk. I hit the gentle downhill across the parkway solidly under 7-minute mile pace, cruised past a couple guys and into the aid. I am extremely glad we had crew here this year so I could grab new gels that might work.  Steve filled my bottle with more watered-down coke and I bolted down the hill.  The technical descent from Sunset Fields is extremely fun, but also so full of loose rock that I was slightly worried about my choice of shoe--Nike Lunaracers that I plan to wear at Western States.  I wanted to try them out on real technical trail in a race setting, and they did just fine. I passed a guy on this stretch complaining about his feet and mine felt great! I love hopping on the rocks, and my stomach was empty enough that it didn't feel upset. I ran this stretch well and finally got Ginger ale into my bottle and belly at Cornelius Creek.  Two guys left the aid station just before me, and I was still trying to just outrun my bonk, so I took off down the gravel road with a nice 13:10 2-mile stretch before popping back onto singletrack.  Finally on the brief climb away from the road, my hunger won out of the upset stomach and I scarfed down two Passion Fruit Gu Roctane gels--they went down smooth and I yo-yo'd with a guy here briefly before he pulled away on an extended climb. I would pass him up the ever-brutal Apple Orchard Falls climb.

More coke in the bottle at the mile 25 aid station and I was off to the only boring part of the course, rolling service road to connect back with Cornelius Creek at mile 29. I actually enjoy this section; it's fun to cruise on.  However, my stomach decided to give me some more surprises and I lost about 5 minutes to pit-stops between these two aid stations alone.

I saw Jordan Chang just before Cornelius Creek 2, prior to aforementioned climb, who was surviving the Boston-Promise Land double that is much hard than Boston 2 Big Sur, only 5 days after his massive PR up in Massachusetts.  The aid station was mayhem with all the people still coming down the mountain hitting it the first time and taking their time at the table.  A cup of Mountain Dew rocket fuel in my bottle and another straight down the hatch and I took off trying to keep making up time.  I ran the Apple Orchard Falls climb a full minute faster than the year before in a not-fast, but respectable 45 minutes.  I was surprised it was faster than the year before as I made a point to run every step last year and actually hiked some this year.

I also actually stopped to fill my bottle and dip my hat in a stream on the way up this year.  I felt elated hitting the top in decent time, and did not even stop. I walked through the aid station to down a cup of mountain dew, but that was all knowing I can run the last 5 downhill miles in ~30 minutes. Or so I thought. I ran hard across the field and up the last tiny climb. I tried for one last nip of gel to ensure I had ample energy to hammer all the way down to the finish, and ended up losing a couple minutes giving it back to the trail on top of the little bop out of that field.  Oh well, time to get at it.

I leaned forward and let momentum get me into a fast rhythm through the singletrack section of the descent as I tried to shake off puke #4.  One of my goals for the race was to run a sub-5 mile on the final gravel road descent.  At least I met that goal. I hit that final 2.5 mile road like a bat out of hell with the first mile on it at 4:47 and the full final 5k of the race being 16:24.  Is it still a 5k PR if it's downhill?

I passed another two people on this final road descent to end up 8th overall. I believe I was 20th or so at the Blue Ridge Parkway 10 miles into the race.  No one passed me from then on either.

Patagonia Air Flow Tank--our new team jersey and the first shirt I don't mind wearing for a full ultra when the weather is actually warm.
Patagonia Strider Pro shorts--Love how many pockets these have so I can keep everything in separate pockets and not have to dig around looking for anything particular.
Nike Lunaracers--if I could find a way to get these cheap I'd probably run in them almost exclusively. Best ultra-racing shoe I've found.
Simple Hydration Bottle--it just works!


Overall, I really can't complain. I know I was in shape to run 4:50 or so, but I'm actually pretty happy to run a 11 minute PR off so little calories. I got out for a tempo run the next day even.  I feel like I processed the run like a fast long run rather than a race, which is much better for the next two months leading up to Western States.

On the team front, Rudy crushed another one. Watch out for him at Bighorn in June. Same with Darren; that kid finally discovered the magic of gels during races--he'll be poised to crush San Juan Solstice once he gets a few long days at altitude.  Our girls team is really coming along as well; which makes me super happy. I was worried there wouldn't be more than one or two of them.

I really cannot say enough about how special the team is to me.  I hope it continues to grow.  We will be working this summer on ways to make that happen without the founding parties around.  I hope I can check back in 5-10 years and see a flourishing community of ultrarunners at Virginia Tech, even more so than we have now.

Western States is just under 8 weeks away now.  I'm planning to just keep rolling since I ended up not racing Promise Land.  Time to get into the big boy mileage.  Western States is very much my course. It is downhill and a back-half course. I hope to be picking people off for about 40 miles ;)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Synchroblog: Why do we run?

What role does running play in your life?

Honestly, a larger role than it probably should! I've met some of my best friends through running.  I looked at schools for next year based in large part to the running scene and scenery available nearby.  Being able to get out the door for an hour or two helps keep me focused the rest of the time on whatever work needs to get done.

When did you start running and why? 

I played soccer competitively from the time I was 5 all the way through high school. I quit my traveling team in middle school because of team politics though, and signed up for 8th grade cross country to get back into shape for high school soccer after a very fat year off.  Little did I know that over the next few years my goals would shift completely; to where by my senior year I was mainly going to track practice over soccer practice and focusing much more on running.  So it has been almost 10 years now!

8th Grade Cross Country--I bet you can't recognize me!

Qualifying for state in high school. No shirts ever, who cares if it was October?

If you could only run one last run, where and with whom would it be and why?
This is a loaded answer, but it would be a long trail for sure.  Either the PCT or the AT; just so I could drag it out and relish in the act for as long as possible.  If I took one person, choosing right now probably Mr. Rudy Rutemiller--we've spent so much time in the mountains together the past few years, he seems the best person with whom to share a send-off like that.

Which is better, trail running or road running?  Why? 
A year ago, I would have said trail running without hesitation.  However, each have their merits.  I love trail running to get off the regular grind and as a great method of exploration.  Road running can be fun for how different it hurts.  I still vote trails though!

Groups or solo? Pick a side (for both) and defend it, or rather, advocate for it!
That really depends on the goal.  I've got a very specific answer though.  I love solo runs after a group run.  Those are the runs where we get to be alone with our thoughts, reflection really comes in and one can appreciate having the group, but still enjoy solitude.

Speaking of solitude, since I guess people actually read my blog, my favorite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, died last night and everyone should immediately go read One Hundred Years of Solitude. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Iron-rich Recovery Curry

I'm going to mix things up a little bit and post something completely different.  FOOD!  I cook a variation of this curry at least once every couple weeks, sometimes once a week and it always lasts me a few days (even with how much I eat in a sitting).  This is also the first time I've written a recipe so bear with me:)  Some of the measurements aren't clear, they are just based on how Kroger sells produce.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minuetes
The two overlap though!

  • 1 ~8 oz. strip steak* (I buy SimpleTruth Grass Fed)
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 1/4 lb dry lentils, any variety (I use what I have on hand usually)
  • 2 Broccoli heads
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 1 Package Golden Curry, at your preferred heat level
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry rice, your preference of grain**
*I've tried various cuts of beef as well as ground beef and bison, and feel like strip steak comes out the best.

**I have a rice cooker, and Nishika rice generally finishes at about the same time as my curry if I put it on between steps 5 and 6.

1.  Warm a large wok (I love my non-stick for cleaning purposes) over medium heat, with a liberal amount of olive oil in the pan.
2.  Dice the onion and at to the pan, sautéing until the onion begins to become translucent.  At the same time, cut the steak into 3/4 inch-across cubes.  Add the steak to the pan once the onion is nearly done.
3.  Chop the carrots 1/4 - 1/2 inch long pieces, and cut the sweet potato into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside the broccoli and kale for now. 
4. Once the steak has begun to brown, add the carrot and sweet potato to the pan and toss until all ingredients are well-mixed.
5. Pour  3 cups of water and your lentils into the pan (I use a full water bottle, and then add a little extra so that the veggies are nearly covered) and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
6.  While all of that is simmering, go ahead and cut your broccoli into florets and dice up the kale into small pieces.  I generally pile all the kale up, cut the stems off just above the start of the leaves, then slice 5-6 times up the stem and 2-3 times across length-wise.  Have this ready to go!
7.  After your mixture has been simmering for 10 minutes, break up your Golden Curry package and add to the mixture, STIRRING CONSTANTLY for ~5 minutes.  The curry will thicken as you go; and this style of curry is typically thicker than standard Indian curry. Once you see the cubes of curry begin to disappear, go ahead and add the broccoli florets and kale.  They cook very quickly, and the broccoli complements better when it still has a bit of crunch.
8.  Serve over rice and enjoy!

I came up with this ingredient list to get in some much needed calories, fat, as well as iron and other vitamins/minerals after hard races and training weeks.  This dish will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days or so, can be frozen, and goes well with rice, quinoa, or on soba noodles even.  When tweaking for yourself, adjust the amount of water you add.  So, if you cut out the steak to make it vegan, you'll add a little less water.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions or ingredient suggestions! 

Monday, March 31, 2014

See you in Squaw

With a poor Terrapin Mountain performance now a week past and my legs feeling springy again, this feels as good a time as any to write this.  This post is mostly a reminder to myself, but enjoy.

1.  Do what AJW says.  I got a coach, and in particular AJW because I trust him to know what is best.  Do not question.
2.  Hit workouts HARD and easy days EASY.  Generally I am happy to trot along easy on my easy days, but as training picks up, I want to emphasize it.  Easy days are for recovery, there's no reason to work on them. I'll be doing three workouts and a long run each week--I will need the easy days.
3.  Get my core routine up to 25 minutes.  I'm at 15 right now, slacking a little after taking a week off from it.
4.  Get to the mountains regularly.  In February it was far too easy to lace up my shoes and head straight out the door.  We're lucky in Blacksburg to have a myriad of wonderful trails and different styles of mountains nearby--take advantage.
5.  Believe I am capable of performing.  All spring various people have been telling me to go for top 10.  Regardless of whether or not that is a viable goal, it's time I start believing it is.
11. Recover. I'm lucky that I can get by (right now) working part time, living pretty simply.  I have a plum job too, and I do stretch in my cubicle sometimes.  I have a lot of time to dedicate to real recovery; I should make use of it.
12. Eat. Nonstop. All. Day.
13.  Make it to Colorado in May--and more so to the start line in Squaw Valley--in one piece and healthy.  I was teetering on the overtraining line last Fall leading into the Grindstone that never was. I was ripping a month later after a month shifted into short, faster running and away from mileage.  I should be better off this time around; with all the workouts the time on my feet should be lower but I am still going to monitor well.
14. Remember the main goal. I am signed up for only one more ultra prior to Western States because I have trouble doing races as training runs.  I love Promise Land--so there is no way I could not run again this year--but I have to make sure I keep it in its place and not overdo it there.
15.  Enjoy every minute.  I'm lucky that I get to do this and that my friends are going to be supporting me there.  I want to make sure I enjoy and relish every minute.
16.  Lastly, I will see you in squaw ;)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Synchroblog: ultraVT

Here we go!

How do you describe ultraVT to a stranger?
We are a group of students (and alumni), based in Blacksburg, who get together to enjoy the trails, kick each other's asses in workouts, and just have fun together. We enjoy easy runs, hard workouts, and racing each other every so often. 

When did you get involved with ultraVT?
From the beginning! Several students through the past 15 years or so complete ultras while at the school. I got into them separately, thanks to Eric Grossman, and after my first Holiday Lake 50k in 2012, I notices some guys around campus wearing the same race shirt. I started running regularly with the triathlon club, of which they were a part, and after some time we decided that there was enough interest at the school to branch off and establish our own team/club. Rudy and I put in the grunt work then, getting sponsors, doing promotion, etc. to get a good membership base and we just keep growing!

How do you see yourself within ultraVT?
Organizationally, I handle sponsors, orders, work on marketing/publicity like interviews, and usually manage trip logistics. I try to be the person with an answer to any question though. I've been at this for nearly 4 years now, and I love helping out the people just getting started since I've likely been through whatever they are working through right now. Jumping into ultrarunning definitely has a learning curve from high school cross country!

What's your favorite aspect of ultraVT?
Definitely the friendships.  We can push each other through a rough training run, and then get back to town and relax over a beer. We've all spent enough time together that our friendships are not simply running anymore.

What's your favorite trail run in the blacksburg vicinity?
Now that is a tricky question; everything has different merits.  Most likely either Dragon's Tooth or Butt Mountain.  I love Dragon's tooth because you push hard, go hand over foot briefly, take some risks, and you're done in <55 minutes.  Butt Mountain is really a classic Western-style run.  It is simple, uphill 5.5 miles to the top, check out the view, then turn around and run back down.  With brief tangents you go past both the Cascades falls and Barney's Wall.  

Any secrets you'd like to share?
London Underground has the best day-after-race breakfast in town.

Favorite post-race meal?
Curry! Or if I'm feeling lazy, steak & guac burrito (quesarito)

What do you want for ultraVT five years from now?
In five years, everyone currently involved should be graduated.  That time is when we will know if the team is established and here to stay.  I hope it has grown from its current state, and spread out even.  We are in an exciting time for mountain running and young people.  Sterling College followed us with their own ultrarunning team (that is fully endorsed by the school) two years after we established ultraVT, and with the newly established Collegiate Mountain Running Championship, I would not be surprised to see ultrarunning follow suit in the near future. I would love for Virginia Tech to be driving force in that level of competition.

New jams

Monday, March 17, 2014


I've become entirely too lax with this whole blog thing.  This post and the one to follow it should suffice to cover everything of note the past few months, and I plan in posting more regularly now that Western States training will be coming on full steam.

First, I got picked up for the Gu Crew for 2014 which is great.  I plan on going back to school in the fall without working, so any help to keep running is endlessly appreciated. Plus, getting a little support from a company definitely makes me feel as though I'm starting to do something right.

The year started with a truly epic road trip.  Epic is a tremendously overused word, but it fits the trip perfectly.  4500 miles in a car in two with two friends, plus another 600 on my own getting to and from Cincinati.  We hit a lot of mountains, a few canyons, and 15 different states.  Most of the trip was spent in Colorado, where we did a lot of vertical in a lot of snow.

I've spent nearly 5 months in Colorado now over the past few years.  Compared to natives, that is not much time but it is enough to provide a certain degree of confidence whenever I decide to go high.  However, no matter how much time one spends in the mountains, the mountains will always provide some new tribulation if you get cocky.

Patrick McGlade had a few days off work surrounding the new year holiday, so he served as our stellar guide for hitting new front range mountains [Rudy had never been to Colorado and Wyatt had only seen one 14er].  After turning down Grays Peak after losing too much of the morning to get down safely, we decided to hit Quandary a couple days later.  We shrugged off a snow forecast for Breckenridge, figuring the storm would hit in the afternoon as they so often do in Colorado.  Starting up the mountain was jovial and pleasant.  We played around and trotted up above treeline. But with about 1500 feet left to the summit, we entered another world.  Where below we enjoyed the sun with jackets unzipped and gloves off, we met an almost immediate shift in conditions that only got worse as we kept climbing.
Enjoying the climb before we reached the storm
Photo by Rudy Rutemiller
The path up Quandary from just above treeline is relatively simple, follow a ridgeline 2 miles until you top out.  With strong gusts of piercing wind and stinging snow, though.  Keeping to the path and avoiding the left edge was an interesting game.  Patrick and Rudy went off ahead as I struggled to keep upright, with Wyatt further behind me. I grunted my way up the mountain however, deeper into hell. Above ~13,500', the conditions were white-out.  The steady wind coming over from the right was enough to keep me braced for support, and the occasional gust was more than enough to blow me back a couple steps.  Step, step, pause, step, step, fall back two feet. Repeat.  At 13,800' I passed a man who knew what he was doing, dressed in a down jumpsuit with poles and mountaineering boots to keep himself upright.  Sometimes, I meet situations in the mountains that warrant laughing at the absurdity of it all--it was too cold for that here.  I kept a buff over my fast as long as I could, but before long that caused my breath to freeze both lenses of my sunglasses.  Pulling down the buff caused it to quickly freeze solid, rendered useless.  After this experience, I believe I know true cold.
Suffering on top of Quandary.  Note that I did not crop this--that white was up there.
Photo by Patrick McGlade
From here, there was only reason I kept pushing upward--Rudy and Patrick were up top and I had no way of saying "Fuck this, I'm turning back," which is all I had been thinking for the past several minutes as I continued grunting upward.  At 14,000 feet Rudy and Patrick came back down, and I thought, "Finally I can quit," but Patrick turned upward toward the summit again with only a few words of exchange and no time to argue.  I followed him.  I am glad I did, since it was only another 2 minutes to the top.  A couple quick photos and we turned downward.  The summit featured about 40 feet of flat, and the wind was so strong that I got blown off my feet mid-stride only a dozen steps from the summit post.  Terrified of worsening conditions, we bolted down the mountain.  Now came a new balancing act: avoid the drop-off to the right and the loose rock below foot. While trying to get blown over by the 60 mph gusts. While you can only see 5-6 feet down the trail.  I lost Patrick within a minute.  I saw him again 400' down the mountain, and I believe he was never more than 15 feet in front of me going down that stretch.  Not long after, we caught Rudy standing with Wyatt still on his way up.  Wyatt made the right call and turn back.

Rolling down the mountain near Wyatt
Not long after, I thought I was comfortable enough on terrain to open up my stride and hopefully get below treeline faster.  Almost immediately, I took what I felt like my worst fall every.  I landed square on on my front, with my forearm between my body and the rocks below.  I started screaming.  It took me nearly a minute to stop just screaming and try to do something.  I broke my wrist in middle school, this felt worse.  I rolled onto my back, hoisted myself to a seated position and tried to assess the damage.  The rock had at the least torn through my shell, which worried me about what lay underneath.  Standing up, I began walking downhill--running was too painful.  By the time we dropped out of the storm, I was able to run; my arm was not broken and I now attribute that pain mostly to the cold.  Again on the descent, we were met with a second world.  We descended out of the white-out storm into clear, sunny snowfields a few hundred feet above treeline.  We advised a few parties to turn back from their summit attempts--one of which did not even have crampons--and feeling safe again, took to playing in the snow.  We glissaded and postholed around on our way back down into the trees before trotting the rest of the way down to the cars.
Snow blowing off the mountain well below the storm.

Fighting the weather up high was the most harrowing experience I have ever had, and I plan to channel that suffering into every new adventure I have for quite some time. I have a new respect for the mountains--a respect that I think can only come with the outcome of underestimation and lucky success.