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. Well...in 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!