Monday, December 26, 2011

Magic Numbers and Feeling Good

In my opinion, there is no “magical” number in terms of the number of miles runners must run each week to be ready for a race. In fact, opinions vary widely as to how much is necessary. I have friends that routinely log 120 miles per week, and others who have completed tough 100 milers on less than 40 miles per week. This being said, the number 100 just sounds nice. I feel that if I can log 100 miles over a 7-10 day period leading up to a race, I am “ready”. Even if this is just a mental boost, it seems to help me.

I am lucky to have a job that allows me to have 2 weeks off over the holidays. I used this time to log some big (for me) miles over the past 10 days. It all started with a trip to Bandera with 3 of my cross country runners who will be running the 25K race in January. I wanted to give them a tour of the terrain they would encounter. I felt like junk for most of the 10 miles we ran, but it was yet another chance for me to run in Bandera, something I have grown to love. The following 2 days found me in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas with my friend Dave, where we logged a tough 34+ miles over 2 runs in the rugged mountains. After a rest day and easy run on Tuesday at Friedrich, I hit Bandera again on Wednesday for 15+ miles. Looking back, this might be the run that changed my mental state leading up to the race. I have never felt so good on a run in Bandera, running way more than usual, including up and over each of the 3 Sisters (I did hike a small portion of the first one). Travis and I pushed the pace and ended up logging 17.5 miles on the day. I felt like going more, but I decided to save the energy for another day.

Thursday was a rest day, as I had a friend from college in town, as well as my parents, who had driven in from Memphis for the holidays. Friday was my long day, and Travis, Tom, and myself hit the hills of Bandera yet again for 25 miles of fun. I felt great almost the entire time. Although we didn’t push as hard as on Wednesday, we ran a respectable pace, leaving me feeling good about the upcoming 100K in January. Saturday was a cold, rainy 16 miles with friends at Government Canyon. Yet again my legs felt surprisingly good (running with fast people sure helps too), and we ran most everything (including the uphills). Sunday was a “short” 10 miles at Eisenhower, which seemed easy after the running I had done over the previous week.

So much of ultra running is mental, especially for me. I find that the mental and physical aspects are tied together. When one is working well, the other usually follows. When one hits a wall, things can often snowball out of control. I know that I haven’t had a week of training like this (in terms of quality and quantity) since early summer. I feel confident and ready to tackle 62 miles in Bandera on January 7. Now if only the weather will cooperate J

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Guads In Pictures

I spent part of this past weekend running in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. I hope to write a detailed report of my trip, but pictures are the best way to paint the picture. The short version is that Dave and I spent 15+ hours driving to run 11 hours in the mountains, but it was worth every second. See for yourself...

(Standing atop the highest point in Texas - Guadalupe Peak)

(Dave and I on top of Guadalupe Peak at Night)

(Dave signing us in)

(Beautiful Morning To Run)

(Tejas Trail Switchbacking Upward)

(Lots of Rocks)

(Only Other Runners On Trail All Day)

(Running Up Bush Mountain)

(Desert Landscape)

(Guadalupe Peak Over My Right Shoulder)

(Tejas Trail)

(Tejas Trail In Lower Right w/ Guadalupe Peak In Background)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Peanut Butter Bliss

I love peanut butter, plain and simple. My dad does too. I remember making trips to Baskin Robbins as a kid to get peanut butter ice cream. Guess it's a Ricketts family thing. So when I saw that GU had come out with a new peanut butter flavored gel, I knew I had to try it. LAst night was my first experience with it, as I gobbled one down between my strength workout and my run at Eisenhower. This stuff is amazing. Not just "decent tasting gel" amazing. More like "I would eat this stuff as a snack and put it on a bagel" amazing. I'm hooked. If you like peanut butter, you have to go try this stuff!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mud and Carrot Cake - A RockHopper Weekend

I am fortunate to have a great group of running friends here in San Antonio. Our group has grown tremendously in the past months, and I love being a part of it. Aside from running, we share adventures, laughs, and beer-brewing tips. It’s really a fun group of people to be associated with, and I consider myself very lucky to call them friends. This past weekend we held our first annual RockHopper (that’s our group’s name) campout in Bandera at the Hill Country State Natural Area. Rich and his wife were kind enough to book the Lodge and organize a first-class weekend, supplying food, water, and anything else you could ever want.

The plan was to get a long run in on Saturday (doing most of the Bandera 100K course) and another medium distance run in on Sunday. I joined Tom, Chris P, Troy, and Joe T/JoeBro at 6:30 AM for a tour of Cairn’s Climb and Boyle’s Bump in the pre-dawn darkness. The weather was cool but comfortable, and my light jacket was soaked by the time we reached the Lodge after 5+ miles. I debated whether to remove it and leave it at the Lodge or continue on. I decided to keep it on a bit longer, and boy am I glad I did! When we arrived back at the Lodge, we were greeted by a huge crowd of runners eager to tame the Bandera rocks. I’ve never seen so many cars and people out there on a non-race day. We must have had 25-30 runners.

After a quick bathroom stop, I hustled to catch up to the others, chatting with Chris and Chris for a bit. We were soon headed up Sky Island, but I ran in the opposite direction so I could drop off a water bottle with my friend Jean. After everyone had passed through, I followed the group down towards Trail 1, where we would hit Ice Cream Hill. As we approached Ice Cream, we could already see the faster runners cresting the top of the hill. Once on top, we re-joined a group that had taken a side trip to get a “double scoop” of Ice Cream. I followed (at least I tried to) on the heels of Tom, Troy, Rachel, Connie, and Chris P as they went screaming down the backside of Ice Cream Hill. Our group continued on through Nachos, not stopping until we arrived at park headquarters, where Tom and Troy broke off to run different trails, while Rachel, Connie, Chris P, and myself stayed on the Bandera course and headed up Trail 8. We navigated out way up and over the rocks of Trail 8, running into the Tanya and Jason, who were “training” pacers for the 100K. After chatting and re-filling our bottles, we tiptoed through the dangerous sections of trail that had been torn up by horses during an endurance ride held over Thanksgiving weekend. Not wanting to break an ankle, we gingerly stepped in and out of horse holes. Somewhere in the field section, we lost Chris. Since I knew he was planning on stopping at Crossroads, I wasn’t too concerned. I was, however, concerned that it was now just me running with Rachel and Connie, both of whom are way faster than I am, even with nagging injuries slowing them down.

The 3 of us blew through Crossroads (mile 16 of Bandera 100K) in search of the 3 Sisters. We encountered Liza and the “fast” group along the way (they had already done the Sisters), as they headed back to the Lodge. Physically I felt pretty good at this point, but my mental state of mind was wavering. After a long week, I was spent. It was at this point that the rain started. Coupled with a slight wind, it was getting colder. Luckily I was still wearing my jacket. Up and over the Sisters I went, chasing Connie and Rachel the whole way. We headed through Crossroads again with the plan of me heading back to the Lodge (I already had the mileage I needed) and Rachel/Connie doing Lucky’s Peak, but since they were both hurting (each had a leg injury), we all ran back to the Lodge in the rain. I ended up doing 28 miles and had a blast running with friends.

Sunday morning I awoke with sore legs and a tired body. I really wasn’t in the mood to run again, but I had made plans to run with Chris, Liza, Rachel, Connie, and Travis. It was tough to leave the Lodge since Rich and Jeannie had tons of food and hot coffee laid out for us. What really caught my eye (aside from the Nutella I ate) was a huge carrot cake!!! I love carrot cake. This would be my reward for running. Reluctantly we trudged out into the cool morning air (at least it wasn’t raining or windy). Knowing the low-lying trails would be muddy and slow, we opted to hit as many of the hills as we could, even going so far as to do repeats up and over Lucky’s Peak! After scaling Lucky twice, we hit Cairn’s Climb and Boyle’s bump, dropped off Chris and Connie at the Lodge, and headed back out for one more loop. Rachel immediately took off ahead of Travis and I. Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of her, but we never caught up. I enjoyed chatting with Travis as we climbed and ran down. My body loosened up, and I really felt good and didn’t want to stop running, but we needed to help clean the Lodge before checking out. Luckily for us, the others who had stayed behind had done most of the cleaning for us. Before I left I made sure I snagged an extra large piece of carrot cake!

A big thanks go out again to the Mihaliks for organizing the weekend and keeping us well fed. What a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Vegas Baby

I spent the past weekend in Las Vegas, enjoying the beautiful weather, mountainous terrain, and time with family. My (pregnant) sister and her husband live there, and this weekend was the Las Vegas Marathon, so my mom was in town, as well as my sister’s friend and her boyfriend. Although I typically hate road races, I thought it would be cool to run the Vegas race (I did the half) because my sister was doing it and the race was held at night. We would run up and down the strip, so lack of scenery would not be an issue. Since I am training for the Bandera 100K, I planned on getting a couple runs in the mountains in addition to running the half, which I planned on cruising and enjoying the atmosphere.

I awoke on Saturday (slept on a blow up mattress in a room with my mom snoring on the couch next to me) and headed to Boulder City and the trails of Bootleg Canyon. I had run there twice before, and I knew the terrain was challenging but very runnable. In my previous trips, I had run the same series of trails, which featured no major climbs or descents, but were rolling the entire time, providing no flat stretches and making it difficult to establish a comfortable running rhythm. I knew this would be great training for Bandera, and I was excited to get into the mountains and enjoy the views and cool weather.

After arriving at Bootleg Canyon, I donned my long sleeve top and light wind jacket (glad I had this with me) and headed up the hill to the trailhead. BC is a mountain biker’s paradise, with most of the trails designed with these folks in mind. I encountered lots of bikers, but I personally think you’d have to be nuts to ride some of those trails! Trail markers are non-existent, so I made mental notes as I scurried along the path. As I neared the 4 mile mark, I had to make several decisions on which way to turn. Not wanting to get lost on my way back, I dropped a water bottle at these intersections so I knew which way to return. At nearly every turn I was greeted by magnificent views, my favorite of which is always looking down on the Vegas strip with snow covered mountains in the background. Coupled with the 40 degree temps and mostly blue skies, this was shaping up to be a great day.

(Typical trail at Bootleg Canyon)

(Vegas Strip w/ Mt. Charleston in background)

I soon reached a familiar dirt road that leads up to some sort of radio tower (I think). I figured I would hike to the top, turn around, and go back the way I came. Just as I was about to head down, I noticed what seemed like a faint trail snaking around the side of the mountain. Hmmmm, maybe I should explore this. Even better, the trail went up, switchbacking past the tower a set of cables. Wonder what these are? Soon my curiosities were answered as I saw a group of people in red shirts attached cables to several folks sitting in some sort of harness. As I followed the set of long cables down to their endpoint, I realized I was standing under a zipline that shot people down the canyon. Pretty cool, but nothing I would ever do.


(Looking down at Boulder City)

I saw that the trail snaked down the other side across some very rocky terrain. This was great! I took it to the bottom, then turned around and head back up to the zipline/tower. Once there, I was ready to jog down the road, collect my water bottles, and head back on the trail I started on. Just as I rounded the first corner, I noticed a trail dropping off the right side. Let’s see where this goes, I thought. What I found was the best singletrack, switchbacking trail I had ever run in the Vegas area. In all, it dropped roughly 750’ over just over a mile. Short, but still a blast to run. Upon reaching the bottom, I turned around and began the steep hike back to the top. A nice couple I met at the top suggested I go in a different direction and check out the views from another peak, where I would have an unobstructed view of Lake Mead. Always up for an adventure, I headed that way. After several navigational challenges, I was there. Sure enough, the view was spectacular.

(Switchbacks were fun to run)

(Lake Mead)

Enjoying the view but not wanting to linger too long, I started the 5+ mile trek back to the car, retrieving my water bottles along the way as I re-traced my steps over the same trail on which I began. Since I have been trying to use liquid nutrition (Carbo Pro) exclusively, I have a surplus of gels and chomps left over from previous races, so I was on a mission to use these on my run. I had a variety of flavors, but I certainly found out that Cherry Lime Roctane Gu is NOT something I will be using in the future!!! Less than I mile from my car (a nice fire engine red Chevy) I spotted a large bighorn sheep. Very cool to see it scurry up the side of the mountain with little effort. I arrived at my car and looked at my Garmin, which registered a beautiful 18+ miles in a little over 3:50. What a great way to spend the morning. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Since I wasn’t going to try to “race” the half marathon, I woke up early on Saturday and jogged down to the local park for some hill repeats. This “mini mountain” offered the perfect spot for some incline work. It is exactly one mile from my sister’s front door to the trailhead, giving me a nice warmup before the real fun started. The trails leading to the top are steep and rocky, and the views of Mt. Charleston, Red Rock Canyon, and the Vegas Strip are amazing. The only downside is that it takes a lot of loops and re-tracing one’s steps to eek out 10 miles, which is what I did. Then first couple times I passed people, they though nothing of it, but when I bearded guy in a button down shirt runs by for a 10th time, eyebrows are raised. I had a great time all the same, as the weather was once again beautiful, sunny and cool.

(The "mini-mountain")

(View of Strip from top)

(Another view of Mt. Charleston)

After a huge breakfast (I love breakfast food and could eat it any time of the day!), we made our way back to my sister’s house for a little rest. I relaxed by watching football and playing banjo. Not a bad way to spend part of the day. Soon it was time to head down to the strip for the race. I was excited about the run, but I certainly wasn’t expecting great things from my legs, which had nearly 30 mountain miles on them in the past 24 hours. Oh well, just have fun and enjoy the experience. So, the 6 of us piled into my sister’s car and made the 15 minute drive. As soon as we got near the Strip, we realized this was going to be ugly. Traffic was horrendous (much more so than a “normal” day in Vegas). We decided it would be best if the 3 of us who were running got out and walked to the start while the others looked for a parking spot (which they found over an hour later and a mile away).

The full marathon started an hour and a half before the half marathoners were set to be unleashed, and the race leaders whizzed by just as we were walking up. We still had over an hour before we started, and it was getting chilly as the sun set behind the towering casinos, so we headed inside Madalay Bay in the hopes of staying warm. To say Mandalay was crowded would be a gross understatement. It was a zoo. People crammed everywhere. I hate big crowds, so this was not fun for me. After taking care of some last-minute needs, we headed out in to the darkness to find our corrals and start the race. At 5:40, 10 minutes after the race started, my corral made it to the start line.

My goal was to stay relaxed for the first half of the race and then see if I had anything left for a controlled tempo effort over the last half. I really enjoyed the first hour, as I got to chat and enjoy the scenery. I could go on and on about the absurdity of having 44,000 people running down the Vegas Strip, but I’ll be brief and just say the merging of the half and full marathoners was dangerous, there were too many people (as in any marathon) who just stopped in the middle of the street to walk or tie a shoe (move over to the side for cryin out loud), and I had to weave in and out of so many people that I probably added an extra half mile to my total. Of the 200+ songs I had loaded onto my iPod, only one of them was a Garth Brooks tune. It just so happened (completely by chance) that the song came on just as I was running by the Wynn (where Garth now performs) and a huge picture of Garth. Weird.

Despite all the craziness, I felt pretty good and decided to pick up the pace for the last 10K. I downed a couple gels (not all at once), drank bad water (more on that in a bit), and dodged crowds on my way to a respectable (for me) 1:59 finish, where I was greeted by thousands of people and cold temps (not fun with sweaty clothes). I found my mom and grabbed some dry clothes, then waited for my sister and her friend to finish. Another hour and a half getting to the car, followed by a food stop and In and Out Burger, and we were home after midnight. What a long day.

I have sworn off road races several times before, and this one did nothing to entice me to do more of them. I considered this a special occasion since my sister was also running (while pregnant!). The crowds (in the race and at the expo) are awful. People litter everywhere (throw your cup in a trash can). There isn’t any good food at aid stations (that’s the best part of ultras). And the course was pancake flat, which most roadies like but doesn’t suit my tastes in running. All in all, I’m glad I did the race and was certainly glad to get to see my sister finish her 2nd half marathon in 3 months. I mentioned the water situation earlier because enough people became ill during or after the race (some are still sick) that the Nevada Department of Health is looking into whether the water was contaminated. Several people are actually talking about filing a class-action lawsuit over the poor race management. Guess I will stick to trail and the ultra scene. Thank goodness J

(My sister, mom, and I)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hill Torture and Joe T's Apple Crisp

You’d think having a week off from school would make it easier to update my blog more regularly, but somehow that didn’t happen last week. Here’s a brief rundown on what’s been going on…
After a miserable (humid, dead legs, slow time) 50K race in Warda, I headed home to Memphis to visit family for a few days. I was greeted by rain, lots of it. Needless to say, my running suffered a bit. Sure, I managed a run, but I wasn’t super excited about it in the least bit. It’s funny how every time I go home, it rains. Seriously, it ALWAYS rains when I go home (and the day I left it cleared up and was really nice!). Anyway, I got back late Tuesday, caught a few hours sleep, and headed to Bandera for an easy 15 the next morning. The 3 of us were greeted with perfect running weather, sunny skies and cool temps. The coyotes were excited about it as well, as we could hear a pack of them howling in the field when we arrived. We essentially ran miles 5-15 of the 100K course, with a few more tacked onto either end of the run to make an even 15 (yes, I ran around the parking lot to ensure my Garmin said 15 miles exactly).
Turkey day brought more cool morning temps and blue skies, which made for perfect hill training weather. I did repeats by myself on my new favorite hill off Babcock. My legs didn’t feel particularly spry, but I was happy about the workout nonetheless. Friday called for 20 miles, so I met Tom and Kelli at McAllister for some faster-than-normal running through the woods. Much like in Warda, my legs felt like junk from the start. I managed to slog through 18 miles (Tom did 23), but it certainly wasn’t my best effort. Saturday’s plan was Bandera, and I was hoping to get 4 hours in, with the middle 2 being a fast tempo effort. Well, it rained (poured) most of the night and part of the morning, rendering such an effort nearly impossible. Anyone who has ever run in the Bandera mud will tell you that it slows down even the fastest of runners (and I’m not fast to begin with). You knew your feet would slide in the mud with every step, but it was always a mystery as to which direction they would slide in. Chris (“new” Chris, not Chris Russell) was the only soul brave enough (or dumb enough) to join me. It was great getting to know him and show him around Bandera. We ended up logging nearly 18 miles in 4 hours, slower than I had wanted but a solid effort given the muddy conditions.
Sunday’s run might have been my favorite of the week. I had planned on meeting one of my former runners (Luke) at Government Canyon for a nice 10 mile stroll over the rocks. I figured at least one or two more people might show up and join us, but when we hit the trails, our group was 11 strong. John, Tom, Tony, Kelli, Liza, Joe T!!!!!, and others were there to soak in the beautiful morning (temps in the low 40s with lots of wind and zero clouds). We decided to start uphill, taking Far Reaches up to Sendero Balcones, where we would hit Twin Oaks for some fun downhill running. I settled in behind Joe, Kelli, and Luke on the climb up, running more than I would normally have run but feeling good doing it. Once we hit Twin Oaks, I stepped aside and let Travis and Luke (the youngsters) take the lead. Within 10 seconds they were completely out of sight, leaving Joe and I alone to chat and catch up. I really enjoy this section of trail, and Joe and I had a blast. After re-joining the others at the bottom, we jogged back to the cars and sampled some of Joe T’s delicious apple crisp and cheesecake. What a great way to spend the morning!
Monday brought a much needed day of rest for my body, but it also meant a return to work (hard to complain when you’ve had a week off), which I wasn’t thrilled about. Tuesday was supposed to be a speed day, but Joe and I decided to change things around and make it a hill day instead. The weather (yet again) was perfect for the torture session he had planned. I sprinted uphill, threw rocks, grunted, and got really dirty over the course of my hour long workout. Larry would have been proudJ. I will take this kind of training any day over being stuck inside a gym. And my legs definitely felt it yesterday, when I was relegated to running on the treadmill because I had weight room duty at school and was too lazy to get up and run early in the morning.
Overall I feel good about the training I’ve been getting in. I really enjoy (think sick and twisted kind of pleasure) the hill sessions with Joe, and I think I can tell a difference in my uphill running, as evidenced by runs at Bandera and Government Canyon. My racing plans for summer 2012 are starting to come together, and the biggest piece of the puzzle will fall into place (for better or worse) when the Hardrock 100 lottery is announced this Sunday. I will be ecstatic if I get in, but my chances are slim (roughly 10%) chance. Either way, I want to continue hammering away at things and get ready for Bandera 100K and a great 2012, both in running and my personal life.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tempo Thursday

(Red Oak Trail at Eisenhower Park)

My schedule for yesterday called for a nice 6 mile run, with the middle 3 miles at tempo pace. I debated running before school, but then I checked the weather forecast and saw the afternoon temps were supposed to be in the 60s with clear skies. I couldn’t pass that up, so I rushed over to Eisenhower after school to squeeze in a run before dark and so I could meet the gang at Freetails afterwards. I jumped out of my car and hit the trail running, taking Hillview in a clockwise direction. I casually jogged up to the top, then hit Red Oak for a short extension before beginning the “fun” part of my workout. I crossed the 2 mile (warmup) mark of my run just before beginning the descent down Yucca, which can be a very fast and enjoyable drop. I navigated the little twists and turns, soaking in the scenery and the tunes coming from my iPod (one I had borrowed since mine had been stolen the day before). As soon as I hit the bottom, I immediately turned around to re-trace my steps. After climbing Yucca, I re-joined Hillview and found John Palmer running towards me. After a quick exchange of words and promise to meet up later, I continued the tempo run I was so enjoying, seeing 2 deer cross a few feet ahead of me. This was the first time I have ever seen deer at Eisenhower, so it capped off a great day. After reaching the 5 mile mark of my run, I backed off the speed and leisurely ran some more.

Upon hitting the parking lot, I chatted with several friends as we watched a boot camp session start nearby. Words can’t do it justice, but let’s just say it was fascinating and entertaining to watch. Yesterday was one of those days you wish you could run forever. The weather, music, and scenery all contributed to make those 6 miles magical. I just hope that feeling will continue over to tomorrow as I head to Warda, TX to run the Wild Hare 50K. I intend to “race” it, which means I’ll be trying to push past my comfort zone, something I have trouble doing in the heat and humidity (which is in the forecast for tomorrow). Regardless of the outcome, I will enjoy being out on the trails doing what I love to do.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No Western States For Me

Western States is the granddaddy of all 100 milers. It’s the oldest and arguably has the most storied history. It’s the Boston Marathon of ultras. For the past 2 years I have put my name into the WS lottery, only to see others get drawn, leaving me pondering my summer racing schedule. I had the opportunity to pace/crew at Western States this past summer, and I was impressed by the pageantry, the buzz that surrounded the race, and the sheer size of the operation. Maybe it was this experience that changed my mind about running it myself.

After much thought, I have decided to not to enter this year’s lottery. I have several reasons for this. First, Hardrock is my #1 goal race – period. If I get into Hardrock, that will be my focus for the year. Second, my heart just isn’t into WS. Maybe it was my 2011 experience, maybe the thought of running in 100+ degree canyons. Whatever the reason, there are many races I’d rather do than Western. Even if I don’t get into Hardrock, I would like to spend much of my summer running in the mountains of Colorado. By running Western States, I would be eating into the best running time in the Rockies. Also, I can’t (with a good conscience) put my name into the lottery if I’m not 100% committed. If I were to get drawn and not run, I would be taking someone’s spot. I don’t want to do that. Instead, I’ll go play in the San Juan Mountains and watch WS on the Internet. Best of luck to everyone who applies.

(2011 Western States Champion Kilian Jornet at Foresthill - Mile 62)

(Crewing at the 2011 Western States 100)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Hallowed Ground

(Pictures don't do it justice. It curves around at the top for more fun)

Yesterday was supposed to be a gym day in which I worked on strength and other “fun” things. When Joe told me he wanted to change things up and do some hill repeats, I jumped at the opportunity. As I told him, a bad day running hills beats a good day in the gym! He had a particular hill in mind, one that I had never run before. It was relatively short (about ¼ mile to the top), but super steep, as steep as anything you will find in San Antonio. While not a “trail”, the hill wasn’t paved, so the pounding on my body wouldn’t be as great as some hills in town.

As I approached the area where the hill was supposed to be, I looked all over, searching for the one I was supposed to run. It didn’t take long to find it. Man, this thing was pretty steep. After warming up, Joe and I headed to the steepest section of the hill for some 10 second repeats, all out effort. My body is used to running longer repeats at a more moderate pace, so even though these just lasted 10 seconds, they hurt! I did 4 of these before the real workout started. After the short repeats, Joe found a nice-sized boulder on the side of the road (we estimated 65 pounds) for me to use in the next exercise. I picked up the boulder, carried it up the steep hill for 10 seconds, then dropped it and ran to the top of the hill, jogging back down for recovery. This was by far the most my legs have EVER burned. It sounded easy enough, but this was really tough. I did 3 sets of this before moving on to the next bit of fun, which involved me grabbing a rock in each hand, doing 5 pushups (on the hill), sprinting (with rocks in hands) 10 seconds, and repeating the process, 3 sets total. As I was on my last set, I noticed another crazy fellow running down the hill towards us. It turns out that this was Ultra Runner of the Year candidate Larry Pearson. Little did I know that I was on the hallowed ground used in training by Leapin’ Larry. His secret is out. After completing my final pushup/sprint combo, Larry and I chatted for a bit before he headed down the hill and I continued on up. I finished out with some more fun repeats, all of which I feel will help my race at Bandera in January and in the Rocky Mountains next summer. Although it hurt, I am really excited about incorporating more work on this hill into my weekly routine. Maybe I’ll see Larry again next week J

Monday, November 14, 2011

Are You Crazy?

(Trail 8)

Last week was an up and down week for me, full of several highs as well as some stress. What better way to relieve (even if temporarily) stress and clear the mind than to run with friends in Bandera. I met John at Tigermart early, and we headed out to Hill Country State Natural Area to meet Robert. We were greeted by cool temps, humidity, and lots of fog. We set off down trail 2, headed up and over Lucky’s Peak, then topped Cairns Climb and Boyles Bump, followed by a quick circumnavigation of Sky Island before heading back to our cars. Robert left us here, having only wanted to run 12 miles, while John and I headed out for more. John was hoping to log a little over 20 miles and wanted to run some of the “flatter” stuff, while I needed to get in 6 hours (close to 30 miles) and chose the hillier sections. We bid each other farewell and took off.

I ran 1.5 miles down the road to the group lodge, where the Bandera 100K starts. Wanting to run a couple hours at a faster “tempo” pace, I charged down the trail, headed once again for Sky Island. Having already run 14 miles, I was pleased with how my legs responded to the increased effort. My goal was to push the pace, run more of the uphills, and get a feel for the course. I felt really good until I crested Ice Cream Hill. That’s when the sun reared it’s ugly head. The fog lifted, the clouds parted, and any trace of a breeze disappeared, replaced by clear blue skies which would have been nice were I not running another 3 hours. I dropped down off Ice Cream, jolted over to Nachos, and began the sneaky climb up Trail 7. After what seemed like forever, I popped out on the road by headquarters and linked up to trail 8, another uphill climb. By now the sun was out in full force, and I was cooking. I stumbled and staggered onwards toward Chapas, where I took the road back to my car, filled up my bottles, and ran another 4.5 miles. There were lots of people on horseback on the trails yesterday. Many I saw more than once, eliciting the usual questions of “how far I am running” and “am I tired?”. One guy thought it was absurd that anyone would want to run for 6 hours, asking me, “Are you crazy?”. Maybe I am. Overall I had logged over 29 miles in 6 hours. More importantly I got to scope out more of the 100K course, making mental notes of what sections I can run, where I can push, and what I need to run again in training. I also got to take a nice mental break from all the stresses life throws our way. Even if the relief is temporary, things seem so clear when I am running. I am able to solve all of life’s problems. Nothing else matters.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bad Soup and Chafing - My Wasatch 100 Race Report

As the great American poet Ice Cube once wrote, “I gotta say that today was a good day”. While he might not have been writing about the Wasatch 100, his words certainly sum up my feelings about the 2011 Wasatch Front 100.

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I really want to run Hardrock, a notoriously brutal 100 mile race in the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado. Getting into Hardrock requires some skill coupled with a bit of luck. First, you have to qualify for the lottery by completing a designated mountain 100. Then, you must enter the lottery with hundreds of other people and hope you name gets selected among the 140 participants. For the past 2 years, I have come away empty. Since my last 100 mile finish was in 2009, I would need to re-qualify this summer to be eligible to enter the lottery for the 2012 running of Hardrock. Knowing this, I again put my name into the Wasatch lottery, and was chosen to run. Knowing how difficult this race would be, and really wanting to earn a qualifying spot for Hardrock, I decided that I needed to run another mountain 100 to ensure I had the finish necessary. I didn’t want to put all of my Hardrock eggs in the Wasatch basket. So, I ran the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July, finishing and guaranteeing my spot in the Hardrock lottery. This took some of the pressure of Wasatch, as I now could just relax and enjoy the run, knowing I already had my 2011 mountain 100 finish.

2 years ago I put my name into the lottery for the Wasatch 100, not thinking I would get in. As luck would have it, I did get in, and I ran the 2009 Wasatch 100 as my first 100 mile race. Since then I have completed one more 100 mile race (Tahoe Rim Trail this past July) and DNF’d at mile 70 of another (Pine To Palm in 2010). Since then I have run several 50 mile races and training runs, 2 100K races, and countless “long” runs on trails. I figured my fitness heading into the 2011 Wasatch 100 had to be better than 2 years ago. In addition to all the races, I had logged 6 weeks of mountain running earlier this summer and had paced 50 miles at high altitude in Leadville just 3 weeks prior. I felt strong physically heading to Utah.

Unlike most 100 mile races, Wasatch begins on Friday morning, meaning I would need to take a couple days off from school before the race. I would have preferred to leave on Wednesday, but school obligations kept me working late that night, forcing me to arrive on Thursday. We flew into Salt Lake City and headed to the grocery store with Larry Pearson, a good friend and fellow San Antonian who would be running Wasatch as well. We stocked up on all the necessities, as well as many items that would never leave the grocery bag but sounded good at the time. Loaded to the gills, we headed to Park City, where my mom was waiting for us. We unloaded, grabbed some pizza for lunch, and packed my drop bags before heading to the race briefing.

(Wasatch 100 course profile)

The weather was beautiful, the air warm (low 80s in Salt Lake City), and the mood jovial at the pre-race briefing. I dropped off my bags, picked up my number, and weighed in for the race. After a quick trail briefing, we headed off for one last meal. Of course, we picked the restaurant not for its food, but more for its selection of beer, a necessity for me the night before an ultra. After a couple of nice stouts, I was off to the hotel to finish packing my bags and to crawl into bed for a few hours sleep.

I awoke at 2AM, having slept fitfully for 3+ hours and still tired from the 4 hours of sleep I got on Wednesday. Oh well, no time to think about being tired. I had a race to run. I loaded all my gear into the car and headed off to pick up Larry, who was no happier to be awake than I was. We made it to the start at the perfect time, as the busses weren’t there yet, meaning we had the port-a-potties all to ourselves J After gearing up for the start (temps were nice, and I wore shorts and my customary button-down shirt), the RD sent us off onto the trails in a cloud of dust.

(Larry and I before the start)

As usual, I had mentally made note of 3 goals for this race. My “A”/dream goal was to run sub 32 hours. My “B” goal was to break 34. My “C” goal was simply to finish, get my buckle, and notch another mountain 100. I had splits written down for a sub 32 hour finish, as well as my times from 2009. My goal was to start out easy, run where I could, hike the uphills, and try not to catch up to Larry too early (he planned on starting out faster). I settled into a comfortable rhythm on the rolling dirt trail that would undulate ever so slightly before we hit the first big climb of the race, which would take us up to Chinscraper and cover over 4,ooo vertical feet in 6 miles. I was taking in a gel every 20 minutes, washing them down with water. My plan was to continue this (along with an S!Cap or 2 every hour) until my stomach said no. I figured this would take at least 6-8 hours. Then I would switch to Gu Brew and whatever solid foods my body could handle. I knew there would be soup to get me through the night, as well as Coke and Mountain Dew to keep me awake.

(Early section of trail)

After 4-5 miles of runnable dirt trail, things went up, and up, and up. The trail was extremely overgrown in areas, making this ascent even more difficult than I remembered. The views of the Great Salt Lake in the distance were spectacular. Mountains reflecting off the water, coupled with the rising sun, made for some memorable photo ops. I stopped along the way to soak it all in and snap a few pictures. Soon I was staring up at the final pitch of Chinscraper. I literally had to get on all fours to summit the rocky peak. I looked behind me and saw other runners doing the same thing. It felt great to be done with the toughest climb on the course, and the mild dizziness I had experienced earlier seemed to be fading. I slammed down another gel and trotted along the ridge, admiring the views.

(Chinscraper in the distance)

(Salt Lake City)

We had several miles of ridge running, a small section of snow, and a few short but steep climbs before we reached the first water stop of the race, over 13 miles in. As I was filling my bottle, I noticed a figure behind the truck who was taking off his bandana and putting on the kind of hat someone running Badwater might wear. This mysterious figure was none other than Larry Pearson. We chatted a bit and headed down the rocky, rutted road that would take us to the first real aid station at mile 18.6. This road reminded me of something you might find at Bandera. Lots of rocks, and they all move. At least it was all downhill. I had to remind myself that it was still early and that I needed to keep things easy. The last thing I wanted to do was trash my quads on this descent with over 80 miles left to run. My legs felt great and my dizziness was gone. Things were perfect. And then I popped my 12th gel of the morning, and it happened….I threw up. I knew this would happen, but I didn’t expect it to happen so early. After a few more trips to the side of the road (I’m getting pretty good at this), I cruised into the Francis Peak Aid Station nearly 20 minutes ahead of my projected pace. I was pleased about this, but especially so since I felt good. Other than the throwing up (just got tired of gels), all systems seemed to be working well.

(Larry hiking early)

(Heading up Chinscraper)

(Looking down from Chinscraper)

I lingered a bit longer here than I had intended, Larry arriving just as I was leaving. The next couple miles were runnable, and I made decent time trotting along at a comfortable pace, passing a couple people along the way. We son departed the rocky road and hit singletrack trail. Well, I guess technically it was singletrack, but it looked more like “zerotrack” to me. Words can’t really do this scene justice. Imagine someone pointed to the thickest, most tangled section of forest you could find and said, “run up that”. Well, that’s pretty much what we did for the next several miles. I could barely see a foot in front of me, and I certainly had no idea where I was putting my feet. The large snowfall in the Wasatch Range had provided ample precipitation for the vegetation to grow rapidly, and the late snow melt meant few had traversed through the area to stomp down the trail. And so I climbed. The temperatures were rising, nothing like what we were experiencing back home in Texas, but warm enough to be uncomfortable. This marked the first (of 2) really bad stretches in the race for me, and I still had 78 miles to go! No food sounded good, my lungs were burning, and the trail was seemingly invisible. After what seemed like an eternity, I arrived at the Bountiful B aid station, 24 miles into the race.

(Overgrown trail)

(Can you find the trail?)

I quickly topped off my bottles (making sure I got ice in them as well) and was headed off down the road, totally exposed to the warm sun. As if this wasn’t bad enough, there were numerous construction trucks driving this road, kicking up clouds of dust. While my stomach wasn’t preventing me from eating, nothing really sounded good. I popped a few Clif Shot Bloks and drank some Gu Brew, knowing I needed to continue to consume calories. This section included dirt road, as well as a few exposed climbs on singletrack trail. I was still feeling low, but I soon made it to the Sessions Aid Station (mile 28), still a few minutes ahead of schedule.

(I love this course)

(Beautiful aspen grove)

I knew the next section would be tough. There are several steep climbs and plenty of exposed sections where the sun can drain your energy. In 2009, this was one of my worst sections. I remember puking several times, but I also remembered the magical popsicles they had at the Swallow Rocks Aid Station. The thought of eating one of these would carry me through the next few hours. I was passed by quite a few people on this section, but I wasn’t worried. I was in survival mode, trying to make it to mile 39 where my first pacer would be waiting. Before that, I needed to get to Swallow Rocks at mile 35. Up, down, up, down, up, down, repeat…That is basically the best way to sum up the Wasatch 100 course, and this section was no different. As I was approaching the aid station, I saw a sign that “advertised” popsicles. This was music to my ears. I snagged 2 banana popsicles, re-filled my bottles, and took off down the road. Just a few minutes outside the aid station I was passed by fellow Texan Fred Thompson, who seemed to be having a good race so far. I finished off my popsicle, threw on some tunes, and jogged down the trail. After a short, but very steep incline, we were treated to some nice rolling terrain. I was able to run this and really picked up speed on the final descent into Big Mountain Aid Station (mile 39), where I would pick up my first pacer.

(Swallow Rocks Aid Station)

I had paced Dave Brown 3 weeks before as he ran a smoking fast time at the Leadville 105 mile race. I know what you’re thinking…”hey, isn’t Leadville only 100 miles long”? Technically, yes, but Dave was having so much fun that he decided to take a detour and run an extra 5 miles. Even with the bonus trail, he still managed to finish under 25 hours and earn a “big” belt buckle. Pretty impressive. Fast forward 3 weeks…Dave, despite having a sore foot, agreed to fly out and pace me for 36 miles at Wasatch. I was excited to have Dave accompany me, partly because I knew I would need some company and partly because I wanted him to experience the beautiful trail that the Wasatch 100 has to offer.

After a quick restroom stop, I grabbed new bottles and my Ultimate Direction pack and headed up the mountain. I knew we had a few climbs immediately ahead of us, but I also knew we would have some fantastic ridge running before the sun dropped and darkness set in. Since I was still feeling pretty good, I was able to push the pace to a fast hike going up and a slow trot on anything that was flat or downhill. If you see Dave, ask him how his first trip into the bushes to use the bathroom turned out J

(Dave and I leaving Big Mountain)

It was great having Dave with me, as we talked and passed the time. He took tons of great photos (I almost felt like I was running for team Salomon), and the views were stunning. I was able to pass several runners on this section, as I ran most of the flat/downhill sections and quickly hiked the ups. Overall I felt pretty good. I even managed to scarf down part of a turkey wrap. Any solid food I could get in would be a huge bonus at this point. Soon we could see the tents at Alexander Ridge below, so Dave ran ahead to fill my bottles as I followed behind.

(Lots of ridge running)

The mood at Alexander Ridge (mile 47) was festive, and my legs felt good. I was happy that I was still ahead of my 2009 pace, but my excitement quickly faded when I learned there was no soup at the aid station. Oh well, there would be soup at Lamb’s Canyon for sure. I grabbed my bottles and a handful of food and walked away. I decided now would be a good time to eat a Lara Bar, as I still needed to take in some solid calories. As soon as the bar hit my mouth, I knew what was coming. In a matter of seconds, everything I had consumed over the last hour was lying on the side of the trail. I felt fine, but apparently my stomach didn’t want a Lara Bar.

Dave and I continued on down the power line trail, which wasn’t steep but certainly wasn’t flat. After a couple miles, we veered to the right and headed into the deep woods for a climb that would eventually drop us down to Lamb’s Canyon. The climb was tough, especially now that I was behind on calories, but Dave urged me to push on, and soon we could see the lights of the aid station below. This section is deceiving, much like the last mile heading to Nachos Aid Station at Bandera. You can see the tents below, but the course snakes its way back and forth on the descent, making it a much longer trek than expected.

At Lamb’s Canyon (mile 53), I repeated my ritual of handing bottles to Dave to fill while I used the restroom. Last time (in 2009), I had changed socks here, but I was determined to get out in as little time as possible this time around, which meant no clothing changes. I grabbed some warm gear and a headlamp, and Dave and I crossed the highway to the uphill road section that led to an even steeper climb on singletrack trail. Dave had grabbed 2 cups of soup for me, but to my dismay I found out they weren’t the standard chicken noodle variety I was expecting. Rather, it was some lukewarm concoction that included peas and carrots. I felt like I was at Pei Wei. Oh well, still better than nothing.

(Leaving Lamb's Canyon Aid Station)

The sun was setting, and the views were amazing. This is why I love the mountains. On one side we had the sun setting, casting a wide array of beautiful colors. Up ahead the now full moon was cresting the ridge, glowing down with magnificent brightness. We were soon joined by a man and his wife, and upon learning Dave and I hailed from Texas the talk soon turned to politics, specifically Rick Perry and his run at the Presidency. I’ll spare everyone the details, but opinions were shared all around. As it turns out, this fellow had run Wasatch many times before (10 if I remember correctly), and had once finished in second place (and ahead of Karl Meltzer).

(Larry scouting out the Lamb's Canyon trail on Thursday)

After nearly 2 miles of hiking up the paved road, we came to the turnoff for the Lamb’s Canyon trail. The trail would take us up over 1700’ in a little under 2 miles. That’s steep! This is where things turned ugly for me in ’09, and I was determined to not let that happen this time. As we turned onto the trail, we switched on our headlamps and began the steep climb up through the trees. In ’09, I had to stop numerous times, usually every 20+ yards. I would double over, catch my breath, and continue on. With Dave encouraging me, I was able to hike the majority of the climb with no breaks. In fact, I was surprised when we got to the top, remarking that it didn’t seem too bad at all. Dave asked if I thought I could run, slowly at first, then picking up speed (relatively speaking) on the descent down to another paved road. I felt really good at this point and was able to maintain a steady pace heading down the mountain. Once on the road, we decided to power hike the 3 (paved) miles uphill to the Millcreek aid station. We passed several more runners, soon leaving us with no one in sight. I was pleased to be passing so many people this far into the race, knowing I would need all the time I could bank for the last (and most difficult miles) of the course. Dave continued to be a great pacer, taking photos and keeping my mind off the race itself.

After 3 miles of steady uphill hiking, we began to see lights and hear the voices drifting down from Millcreek (mile 61+). Brighton (mile 75) is known by many who have run Wasatch as the “morgue” because “dead” runners can be found strewn all over the aid station. That is where many drop out of the race. Well, this year Millcreek could have been dubbed the morgue, as many runners were bundled up, trying to stay warm. After seeing the look of despair on the faces of so many, I knew I had to get moving before I became a victim. I sent Dave off for soup and a bottle of Coke (time for some caffeine), and I hit the restroom (without getting too personal, let’s just say that I could have shaved 30 minutes off my time without these frequent trip to the can). When I came out of the restroom I began to shiver, noticing just how cold things get when you stop moving. I downed a cup of soup and took another (not good soup) for the hike up the mountain. Once I was moving I started to warm up, but I struggled a bit as well, needing to stop a few times to regroup and catch my breath. I knew we had 1,500’ or more of climbing, so I put my head down and pressed on. This is also the point when I really started to noticed the chafing I was experiencing (read my Tahoe report if stories of chafing excite you). Luckily I had a product called “Butt Paste”. This is used to combat diaper rash in children. Sounded like a winner to me.

(My secret weapon)

After nearly 2 hours of steady movement, we arrived at the Desolation Aid Station (mile 67). I’ve been told by Larry that there are several stunning lakes nearby, but it was way too dark to tell. I wanted some Mountain Dew, but they didn’t have any (another aid station disappointment), so I settled for some (funny tasting) Coke. In 2009 I had lingered here too long, warming myself by the fire. This year I was determined to press on, knowing we had another climb up to the ridge, then over to the next aid station, so Dave and I grabbed what we needed and headed out.

Considering the terrain and mileage I had covered up to this point, my legs felt pretty good. The chafing, however, was bordering on criminal. Forget waterboarding, this is way worse (ok, I have no way of knowing that for sure). I was applying Butt Paste every few miles at this point. On a side note, maybe the kind folks who make Butt Paste would sponsor me. I can already see the possibilities. Aside from the chafing, this section was rather uneventful. I did eat my second Payday bar of the run, something I bought almost as an afterthought the day before. Thanks for the recommendation Chris!

At the Scotts Tower Aid Station (mile 71), I ate some hot soup (still not the good stuff) and filled my bottles. It was windy on top of the ridge, so leaving the warmth of the tent was difficult. The next few miles take you down a gravel road to a short pavement section that leads to Brighton Ski Lodge, where I would pick up my second pacer. I hobbled (think massive chafing) down the road, wincing with every step. When we hit the pavement, I noticed a truck parked on the side of the road with the name “Larry” written on a window. We found out later that this was Larry’s pacer. He was catching a little shuteye before picking up Larry Legend. I enjoyed the last few miles of Dave’s company, thanking him for getting me through the middle miles. I honestly couldn’t have done it without him.

I entered the warm ski lodge (mile 75) and was greeted by my crew. Dace relayed my needs to them while I hit the restroom. Even if you didn’t need to go, it’s hard to pass up a nice restroom during a 100 mile race. I sat and rested my legs and feet (I was feeling pretty beat up at this point), ate a great egg sandwich, and tried to collect my thoughts for the miles ahead. As anyone who has ever run Wasatch will tell you, the last 25 miles are the hardest. Not only does the cumulative mileage and elevation catch up to you, but the terrain you encounter on the last section is arguably the toughest in the race and some of the toughest I’ve ever run. Reluctantly, I stood up and bid farewell to my crew, turning to my new pacer Ben and telling him to lead the way out.

I first met Ben in 2008 when I attended the Leadville 100 training camp. We kept in touch, and I paced him for a section of the Leadville 100 that year. He had recently relocated from California to Utah, so I asked him to pace me. I was looking forward to catching up with him and having him join me for the last 25 miles. We chatted as we climbed up towards Catherine’s Pass, the high point on the course at 10,240’. In 2009 I ran into 2 bull moose fighting on this section of trail and was hoping to not have a repeat performance this year. All we saw were 2 large mule deer off to the side of the trail. They looked at us and seemed to be thinking what most people do – what are these idiots doing? I was sleepy and grouchy at this stage, and I’m sure Ben was questioning his decision to pace me. We trudged up the mountain, finally hitting the summit and starting our long descent down to the Ant Knolls Aid Station (mile 80), where I was hoping to gorge on some pancakes.

Ants Knoll is similar in some ways to Nachos, Bill Gardner’s station at Bandera, because you can hear the music well before you arrive, and you know there will be a party waiting for you. Just as we shut our headlamps off, we saw the lights of Ants Knoll in the distance, followed by the sounds of loud music. This seemed to re-energize me, and I began to hike faster (the chafing had relegated me to walking more than I would have liked). Once there, I plopped down in a chair and sent Ben off in search of pancakes. What he brought back was way better than I had expected. In addition to pancakes covered in syrup, Ben found scrambled eggs and sausage. I don’t normally eat sausage, but it sure sounded good at this point. I devoured everything on the plate and smiled. I knew a short, steep climb called the “Grunt” lay ahead, and I wanted to enjoy the moment before things got tough again. Reluctantly, I got out of my chair and set off towards the steep hill, ready to get this race over with.

Chafing continued to be a major issue for me. I felt ok, but my legs were on fire, making running nearly impossible. Uphill, flats, downhill – it all hurt. I kept applying my Butt Paste, but the relief was temporary. Up and down, up and down, the course was relentless. The sun was up, and I could feel the temperature rising. Rain was in the forecast, and I pleaded for clouds to come in and provide much-needed shade. I became even grouchier, often only answering Ben’s questions with a grunt or mumble. He was great to have around, reminding me to eat, drink, and take my Scaps. I’m sure I would have slowed down even more without Ben there to push me. I can’t thank him enough. Somewhere on this section we saw a man coming down the trail towards us carrying a large gun. Maybe he was here to put me out of my misery, I thought. It turns out he was out hunting bears. I hoped we would see one, but he didn’t seem to think we would have much luck. We chatted with him for a few minutes and continued on. After what seemed like hours, we arrived at Pole Line Pass (mile 83), where my last drop bag awaited me. I packed away my night gear and grabbed a few necessities from my bag. Nothing sounded good to eat, but I knew I needed to stock up for the final push. I grabbed as many Shot Bloks as I could stuff in my pockets, and off we went.

Other than a several mile stretch spend bushwhacking through the early miles of nastiness, I hadn’t had a severely low moment during the race. Sure, there were times that I didn’t feel wonderful, but the thought of quitting never crossed my mind. The next 10 miles would change all of that. The rising temperatures and the increasing lack of calories I had ingested finally started to take its toll on me. I staggered around the course like a drunk on New Years. I would stop, catch my breath, trudge on. I repeated this process over and over for what seemed like an eternity. There were only 4 miles between Pole Line and the next aid at Rock Springs, but it took nearly 2 hours to get there. Rock Springs was remote, and aid was minimal. I drank water and sat on a log until I was chased off by a swarm of bees. My feet hurt, I was tired, and we still had 2 nasty downhill sections to go. Where was the shuttle off this god-forsaken mountain???

The last 2 noteworthy descents on the Wasatch course are known simply as the “Plunge” and the “Dive”. Imagine going straight down a dusty, rock-strewn chute/rut. All of this after running 87 miles in the Wasatch Range. I detested this section in 2009, and this year was no different. Dust was flying everywhere, getting in my shoes and socks despite my wearing gaiters. The sun beat down on my exposed body. I was defeated. It took well over 3 hours to cover 6 miles. I knew I would finish, but mentally I was done. My goals were out the window. I just wanted to be done. I had zero energy and was totally fried. I sat down several times and poured water over my head. I questioned my sanity several times, but somehow still managed to make it to the next stop.

At the final aid station, Pot Bottom (mile 93), Ben made me sit and drink/eat for 15 minutes. After 10, I started to get up to leave, but he forced me to sit and continue to fuel. In hindsight, this was the smartest thing I could have done. He convinced me that we could either sit another 5 minutes here or have to sit somewhere out on the trail and lose even more time. I reluctantly agreed. Not long after I sat down, Fred Thompson arrived at the aid station. Then Larry came trotting in. 3 Texans, re-united at the final aid station. There was also another guy there who came in swearing and yelling, saying the volunteers at the last aid station gave him bad info about mileage. This guy was hot. It bordered on the ridiculous to listen to him complain.

I was the first of the 3 Texans to leave Pot Bottom, with Larry not far behind. The first mile took us up a jeep road that was exposed to the hot sun. I checked over my shoulder every few minutes to see if Larry was still coming. Sure enough, there he was. If he beat me I would never hear the end of it. That motivated me to keep moving. When we hit the next junction, Mr. Complainer and his pacer were there, debating whether they were supposed to take the turn or keep on going straight. After reading the course directions, they decided to turn. We agreed that this was the correct move. Now we were in front of them, and the guy yelled at my pacer about us trying to pass them. Really??? We played it off and joked, but this guy was annoying. At this point Ben looked at me and asked if I could run at all. “No”, I replied, but I would try anyway. I started to jog a little, and a funny thing happened. Because this section was on trail that was a bit wider than we had been on, I was able to spread my legs out a little, minimizing the pain from chafing. My legs felt good. I gradually increased the speed. Ben mentioned that if we kept this up, we could distance ourselves from the annoying guy. That motivated me even more. The more I ran, the better I felt and faster I went. Before I knew it, we were passing runners headed down the hill. I think I passed at least 6-8 people on this final stretch. I felt great. Honestly, this was the best stretch of running I had done all race, and I was now 95+ miles into it!!! The road was rocky and tough, but I felt like I was floating. At one point Ben had to tell me to slow down so I didn’t burn up all my energy.

After nearly 3 miles of trail/road, we made another turn onto the final 2 mile section of trail that would take us to the pavement and the finish line. This trail would be ideal under any circumstance, for it was smooth, downhill, and singletrack. Knowing I was almost done made it even sweeter. I continued to fly down the trail (at least it felt like I was flying) and soon passed through the gates that led to pavement. I turned right and knew I was almost done. Just another half mile of open road. My crew met me for the final stretch run, and soon I was on the grass and racing towards the finish. I looked up at the clock as I crossed the line and saw 33:31. I had beaten my previous Wasatch time by nearly 2 hours. What an adventure.

(Final stretch of road, with Ben behind me)

(Almost there)

(Crossing the finish line. My mom is in the background)

(Finally done.)

After finishing, I really felt great. The chafing was there, but my legs felt fine. I had a little swelling, but no big blisters or major issues. I grabbed a beer and waited for Larry to arrive. He finished within an hour, a great accomplishment for any flatlander. We chatted and swapped stories, then headed up to receive our buckles and the best finisher plaques I have seen. I really love this race and these mountains. If they would get better soup, it might be the perfect race J

(Chafing is no fun)

(Dave, myself, and Ben)

(Chatting with Larry)

(Getting my 2nd Wasatch buckle)

(No caption needed)

(Finisher's plaque)

As I reflect back on my Wasatch experience, I take away several things. First, there is no better way to train for a mountain run than to run in the mountains. This was by far my best year of training, and the early summer running I did out West certainly paid dividends at Wasatch. For me there is almost nothing in life that compares to running in the mountains. I love it, plain and simple. Second, I need to find a nutrition strategy that relies more on liquids than gels and solids. I plan on using Carbo Pro at the Bandera 100K in January and hope this will ease some of my stomach issues. Finally, for me to really improve my times at the longer distances, I need to find a solution to my chafing. I have some ideas, but kids might read this, so I’ll spare all the details.

Bring on Hardrock!!!