Thursday, October 27, 2016

100 Mile Redemption

Prologue –

I went into the Pony Express 100 looking for a bit of redemption.  In general, my racing this year has been less than stellar.  Indeed it’s been a bit abysmal.  I fell apart during Moab Red Hot, Timp Trail Marathon was ok, nothing to write home about, Squamish 50K, while a lot of fun, was pretty darn slow too.  Couple that with my slowest Wasatch 100 finish ever plus abject failure at the Bear and this had me wondering if I would ever run semi decently or was age finally rearing its ugly head.  Was I going to have to resign myself to just running ultras for fun and not worrying about time, not being able to compete at the level I was used to (certainly not elite, but at least in the front half of the pack).  I am pretty competitive by nature and doing my best at a race is part of what makes it fun for me.

Ideally, I was hoping for a sub-24 hour run at Pony.  I hadn’t run a sub-24 hour 100 since Vermont back in 2011 and certainly wasn’t sure I could do it.  Realistically, I didn’t feel like I had the training needed for a run that fast, but I was going to give it a shot. 

Since I know that 100’s are a very mental game, especially late in the race, I started mentally prepping for the hard end miles a couple of weeks before.  Knew the first half wouldn’t be too bad, but that the last 30 miles or so would make or break my effort to go under 24 hours.

I also found out that Misty, one of my good friends would be running Pony as well and was looking for a bit of redemption herself.  She also wanted to try and go under 24 hours as she had never accomplished that before.  I created what I thought was a reasonable pace chart giving us a bit over 23 hours and sent it to her.  She thought it was very doable.  I knew the key for me would be to hit the 50 mile mark at or under 10 hours.  After that I figured I could hang on by my fingernails and get the last 50 in under 14 hours.

Race Time –

Davy has Pony Express setup with staggered start times.  Your start time is based on your expected finish time.  The slowest runners will start at 5am, with other runners starting at 6am, 7am, and 8am.  This has the advantage of spreading out the field ahead of time so that crew vehicles aren’t creating congestion for the runners.  Davy also requires that each runner supply their own crew.  There are no aid stations, just check points roughly every 10-16 miles. 
Misty and I were in the 6am starting group.  We took off and managed to settle into an easy pace, around 9-10 min/mile.  This felt really good since the first several miles were a slight downhill.
Sunrise in the west desert
Most of the race was pretty mundane.  Long straight stretches of road.  We clicked off the miles, occasionally meeting up with Steve, Misty’s significant other.  The day was stunning, beautiful crystal clear skies without a cloud, temps warming up from the 30’s to the lower 70’s.  The scenery was also beautiful, not nearly as desolate and devoid of vegetation as I thought it would be .  We did manage to see three herds of wild horses, a couple of snakes, and a tarantula crossing the road.
Trail Buddy
As we ran along we did fall behind our pace chart goals and at one point we thought that a sub-24 was out of reach.  We resolved to just keep plugging away and do the best we could.  Since I was pretty unsure I could go sub-24, I told Misty that she was to take off and not wait for me at all.  I did have my usual down spot between miles 30 and 40 and found it to be a struggle to keep up, but somehow I managed, then snapped out of it.
Looking west from Dugway Pass
 We managed to hit the halfway point at 10:05, so behind our pace but still possible to go sub-24.  We got to the turnaround at Fish Springs before sundown, something that Misty really wanted to do as it was dark when she got there the last time she ran this race.  As we got near Fish spring we were able to kind of gauge where we were in the pack.  We thought that only one runners from either the 7am or 8am groups had passed us and we did know that there were a couple of 6am runners and a few from 5am ahead of us as well.
Almost to the turnaround

We tried to keep up as steady of a pace as possible, running the vast majority of the time.  Even though this race only has about 3000’ of gain, I was surprised at how much uphill running we actually did.  Lots and lots of very gradual uphill miles.

As it got dark we just continued to click off the miles, occasionally passing another runner.  At no time during the last half of the race did anyone pass us that we couldn’t answer back.  By the time we got to the last check point at Dugway Well, we were both ready to be done but still had 17 miles to go.

The night didn’t get too cold.  Crossing the old riverbed was the coldest at probably the low 30’s.  The stars were brilliant with no moon out and no city lights around.  We could see the lights of Dugway Proving Ground way off in the distance.  We could also see the lights of the finish from I think around five miles away.  So close yet so far.  We kept plugging away.  This last section from Dugway Well was all mental.  We both withdrew into ourselves, just willing our legs to keep running.  It was so hard to just keep running as opposed to just walking, but we knew by then that we really could go sub-24 if we just kept running.  Now it became how much could we go under.

Eventually we came to the junction and turned down to the finish line ¼ mile away.  That last quarter was the most satisfying of the entire race.  Knowing that we were way under 24 hours.  Knowing that we were the 2nd and 3rd people to cross the finish line (with the different start times, we didn’t know our placing yet).  For me, this finish was one of the most satisfying finishes I can think of.  It was a nice redemption run.  Our final time was 23:18:24 for Misty and 23:18:25 for me.

Aftermath –

Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t very sure I could actually go sub-24 anymore, especially since I’m 58 years old and have never been what you would call fast.  I did manage to pull off a 7th place finish out of roughly 35 starters, so finishing in the top 20% was very satisfying.  This was my fastest 100 mile run since 2003 and my second fastest ever.  Yep, it was good.

Misty was super happy to have gone under 24 hours.  Her fastest 100 by a large margin.  Later in the day, she found out that she had also won the women’s race by a substantial margin.  She did fantastic.  I was very happy for her.  Made me smile big.

As far as following our pace chart, we fell behind by more and more until we got back to the Blackrock checkpoint, then we started gaining that time back.  In the end we were only behind our hoped for pace by 13 minutes.  Not too bad at estimating.

Shoes – I wore my Altra Paradigm’s for the entire race.  These are road shoes that are very similar to the Altra Olympus but much lighter.  I figured that since we would be on gravel roads the entire time and not any trail, this was the shoe to use.  Between my Darn Tough socks and the Altra’s, I ended up with two small blisters on the sides of a couple of toes.  Nothing that slowed me down at all.

Food – I fueled for the most part using Tailwind.  I love this stuff and kept a bottle with me at all times.  I supplemented that with the occasional “Simply Fruit” from Powerbar, various kinds of Campbell’s soup,  and bacon.  I felt I fueled just fine with no stomach upset unless we really pushed hard going uphill.

As an Engineer by trade, I tend to look at my race performances analytically.  I don’t get into the life changing spirituality or any of that stuff.  I run for fun, and analyzing my performance and trying to see where I could have done better is part of that fun.  I really enjoy the strategy when a race is going well.  How do I catch other runners, how do I stay ahead, etc.  All in all, I think I had a great run.  Next year?  Hmmm, well, I’m thinking about it.  I really seem to do better at flat races instead of mountain races.

I highly recommend running this race.  Davy does a great job, the staggered start format is interesting, the history you run through following the Pony Express trail.  The monuments to those times.  Misty and I were chatting about how much more desolate it was 150 years ago when those riders were riding on a trail instead of a nice gravel road.  I would be willing to bet that the scenery hasn’t changed at all except for the presence of the gravel roads.

A lot of people think that running out in the west desert has got to be boring, long straight stretches of road, no real change.  But I found it to be enjoyable.  The scenery was starkly beautiful.  Flat grasslands, salt flats, mountain ranges, clear blue skies, more water than I would have thought out at Fish Springs.  When you get to Fish Spring and see a sign telling you the nearest town is 104 miles away, you realize just how far in the middle of nowhere you really are. I really like that feeling.  Super quiet, only the crunch of gravel and your own breathing to be heard.  Your foot steps and breathing acting like a metronome as the miles click away.  Being able to manage the discomfort, paying attention what your body is telling you.  All extraneous stuff stripped away.  Long stretches where you don’t see another soul.  Dust trails from vehicles visible from 15 miles away.  Then occasionally seeing a friend at a checkpoint and getting a hug from them.  I found joy in all of this.

Below is some of the info from our race.

Check Point Mileage Actual Clock Time Pace Chart Clock Time Difference Section Actual Pace Section Pace Chart Overall Actual Pace Overall Pace Chart
Simpson Spring 16.4 8:53 9:00 7 10:33 10:58 10:33 10:58
Dugway Well 33.3 12:17 11:55 -22 12:04 10:21 11:19 10:39
Blackrock 48.5 15:31 15:25 -6 12:45 13:49 11:46 11:39
Fish Springs 58.2 18:04 17:25 -39 15:46 12:22 12:26 11:46
Blackrock 67.9 20:36 19:25 -49 15:40 12:22 12:54 11:51
Dugway Well 83.1 0:36 23:55 -41 15:47 13:49 13:25 12:56
Simpson Spring 100 5:18 5:05 -13 15:55 18:21 13:59 13:51

I did manage to capture every mile split through 95.5 miles using my cell phone in airplane mode and using Strava.  Here's those splits.  Yeah, I'm a data geek.

Mile Time Mile Time
1 11:27 51 12:49
2 9:32 52 13:55
3 9:44 53 12:46
4 10:02 54 12:47
5 9:54 55 19:25
6 9:24 56 11:30
7 9:58 57 12:09
8 9:55 58 13:26
9 9:52 59 29:52 Fish Spring
10 11:54 60 14:05
11 10:09 61 11:31
12 10:17 62 12:07
13 11:36 63 22:06
14 10:55 64 12:02
15 11:00 65 12:53
Simpson Spring 16 13:35 66 11:45
17 14:13 67 12:31
18 13:30 68 13:54
19 10:27 69 27:51:00 Blackrock
20 10:31 70 14:29
21 10:52 71 12:39
22 10:34 72 12:55
23 13:10 73 12:20
24 10:21 74 19:06
25 10:30 75 14:27
26 18:37 76 13:46
27 10:57 77 14:08
28 11:06 78 14:55
29 11:09 79 14:51
30 11:01 80 16:31
31 11:13 81 15:15
32 11:08 82 16:10
33 13:13 83 12:50
Dugway 34 19:57 84 14:00
35 13:32 85 24:36 Dugway
36 12:39 86 14:07
37 13:33 87 14:08
38 14:41 88 14:54
39 13:32 89 14:55
40 10:12 90 14:36
41 10:04 91 18:56
42 11:07 92 17:44
43 10:58 93 13:38
44 10:42 94 15:53
45 12:49 95 16:23
46 13:29
47 11:49
48 11:10
49 11:37
Blackrock 50 31:31

Monday, September 19, 2016

My 7th Wasatch 100 Finish

Well, another Wasatch 100 is in the books.  This year marked my 10th trip to the starting line and my 7th finish and the first 100 that I’ve finished since the 2014 Wasatch.  Needless to say, having gone two years without a 100 finish, I was a bit nervous.
There really isn’t a lot to say about this year’s race for me, so I’ll try to keep it short.


So my training has been on a bit of the lacking side.  I just haven’t gotten into it like years past..until the first of July.  Then I figured that I had better get some miles and vert in if I wanted any chance of finishing Wasatch.  So July and August saw me put in the most miles and vertical for those two months ever.  Good thing too.

Race Time

That first climb?  Yeah, it was a doozy.  Dusty, narrow, serious conga line, complete stop at times waiting for people in front to get moving.  Still, I got to the top in about the time I expected.

The run to Bountiful B.  Not too bad.  I usually dislike that climb, but this year I felt pretty good.  Had some awesome friends running that aid station and managed to have my very own pit crew.  Debbie, Curtis, Christy Jo, you guys rock.

The trot to Sessions, felt good, mostly ran by myself and I’m always good with that.  Weather was prefect, scenery, spectacular.  Loved seeing the folks at Sessions.

Sessions to Swallow Rocks.  Always a downer time for me but I really do enjoy running the ridge once you get past that climb out of City Creek Pass.  I don’t know why, but this section is always one of my low points.  Still, I made pretty good time.  Once again, scenery was spectacular.  Swallow Rocks aid actually had Forest Service people helping out.  That was awesome.  Thanks for that.
Swallow Rocks to Big Mountain.

Swallow Rocks to Big Mountain.  I always like this section.  My mood seems to lift, it’s mostly downhill and the vibe at Big Mountain can’t help but lift your spirits.  I had no crew this year, but a wonderful aid station volunteer tended to my needs, fetched my drop bag etc.  I left there feeling pretty good and looking forward to the trek to Alexander Ridge.

Big Mountain to Alexander Ridge.  Exposed and warm like usual but there was a wind (not a breeze) blowing across the trail, so that kept things cool.  My mood was good.  As usual, the Alexander Ridge aid station looked like a field hospital with people strewn about due to the heat (field hospital was their theme this year).  I cruised on through feeling pretty good.  Still on pace I think, I had lost my pace chart somewhere on the first climb.

Alexander to Lambs Canyon.  Not a bad section.  Not as fast as two years ago, but I didn’t expect to be.  Still, it was solid effort and I was looking forward to picking up my first pacer at Lamb’s.  It was kind of weird not having the huge crowds like last year, but in reality, I liked it.  I didn’t have to fight my way out of the aid station and I think I got out of there faster than I usually do.  Part of that is I felt pretty good, and Misty hurried me along.  I had had cramping issues for the past 20 miles or so and Misty fed me some electrolyte caps.  Cramping gone within 20 minutes.  Legs were still a bit trashed, but I didn’t have to worry about calves seizing up on me at the slightest misstep.

Lamb’s Canyon to Upper Big Water.  Picked up Misty, my first pacer, at Lamb’s.  The trek was pretty good.  Felt strong making the climb up to Bear Ass Pass, cruised down into Elbow Fork and hiked/trotted the road to Upper Big Water.

Upper Big Water to Desolation Lake.  Kind of cool (like usual) at Upper Big Water.  Tanked up on food, took care of a couple of blisters forming on toes, and got out.  Like usual, the temps warmed up once we got 200 yards up the trail.  Now it was dark and during the climb to Dog Lake we encountered and couple of moose bedded down just off the trail.  Did you know they rumble?  Sounds kind of like a lion rumbling.  A bit unnerving.  Dog Lake came and went, the downhill to Blunder Fork was a bit slow as the legs were starting to get tired.  The climb up to Deso was a bit slow.  This is where I noticed that my climbing on steeper sections was going to be an issue.  Breathing was tough.  I would go a couple hundred yards and have to stop to catch my breath.  Unlike the first time this happened to me, I knew what was going on.  The huge amounts of dust on the trail was getting into my lungs.  I could do reasonably well as long as the trail was flat or downhill, but uphills were becoming a slow go.  With dusty lungs cropping up, I knew that a sub 30 hour time was out the window.  At that point just a finish became the goal.

Desolation Lake to Brighton.   The climb up Red Lover’s Ridge was slow going, but I made it just fine.  As usual, the stars on Scott’s were spectacular, and as usual I made my pacer stop and looked at them for a couple of minutes.  It was a bit cool, maybe the low 40’s, on Scott’s with a bit of a breeze blowing across, but nothing too bad.  The descent into Brighton was uneventful.  Seemed to be less traffic than normal.  Picked up my second pacer at Brighton.  I also spent a bit of time regrouping for the final 32 miles.  Ate plenty of food, changed into dry clothes, and hit the trail.

Brighton to Pole Line Pass.  The climb up to Point Supreme was a bit of a grind.  Once again, being able to breathe would have helped, but I made it up that climb in about my usual amount of time.  Aric and I stopped at the top and looked at stars.  No moon makes for a brilliant sky.  The descent into Ant Knoll’s was slow and painful.  The quads were pretty well shot, plus I was getting the sleepies.  Once into Ant Knoll’s I ate some sausage and had Aric let me nap in a chair for 15 minutes max.  I felt like a new man.  The legs were no longer sore.  The climb up the grunt was just that, a grunt.  Then just cruised to Pole Line Pass. 

Looking across at Mineral Basin
Pole Line Pass to Pot Hollow.  I couldn’t believe the Pole Line Pass aid station.  Their menu was incredible.  More selection than  lot of restaurants that I’ve been to.  It was hard to decide since everything sounded good at five in the morning.  Anyway, I grabbed some food and we got out.  Now for the long trek to Pot Hollow.  The sun started to come up and there’s nothing like a spectacular sunrise while in the Wasatch backcountry to lift you up.
Mt. Timpanogos at sunrise

Pot Hollow to the finish.  I took another short nap at Pot Hollow. 
Beer and perogies at 8am?  Why yes, I think I will
Now it was a matter of just getting the damn thing done.  I knew I had at least three hours left and I really wouldn’t be able to shorten that any.  Plus it’s gravel road, not trail.  Ugh!  Just shuffled along trying to get it done.  Went through Staton aid, by now it was starting to get a bit warm.  I tried to get into a one minute run, followed by 30 seconds of walking.  I managed to do this all the way to the wall.
At the wall, we came across another runner who asked if either of us had an inhaler.  I did, and asked her why.  She said that her climbing ability had become nonexistent and she couldn’t breathe.  She seemed a bit panicked about this.  I explained that it was the dust and that I was having the very same issue and you just kept going.  I did give her a hit off my inhaler and we basically kept her with us to the finish.  It was her first 100 mile race.  It was nice to have someone else along for those last boring miles along Deer Creek.  Her family came out to run her in the last half mile or so.  That was nice to see, her kids all excited to see Mommy.  Good job Marci!  It was very nice to meet and spend some trail time with you.
So I crossed the finish line in 34:53.  My slowest Wasatch ever by 20 minutes, but I got it done for the 7th time.  For that, I’m happy.  It was so nice to just hang out after the race, chat with friends, drink beer and eat food, lots of food.


Like usual, I went on my three day eating binge.  If it looks like food and is slow enough, it’s fair game in my book.  Leg soreness went away by Wednesday.  I ended up with some minor blisters on the toes of one foot and a little bigger one on the ball.  Nothing serious and it didn’t seem to slow me down during the race.

Gear.  I wore my Altra Olympus for the entire race plus a pair of Darn Tough socks.  Love those socks and shoes.

Food.  Tried eating the Simply Fruit packs from Power Bar.  100 calories like gels, but more like pureed fruit.  Definitely a go to food in the future.  Did Tailwind in my hydration bladder for the latter part of the race.  I like the stuff, but the taste does get old after 30-40 miles and I went back to plain water.

Lessons learned.  I’m getting older.  The speed (what little I did have) is not as fast.  I should train more for these things if I want to do better.  I need caffeine at night.  I end up walking like a drunk sailor because I’m so sleepy at night.  

Next up.  The Bear 100.  Two weeks after Wasatch.  I’ve never run two 100’s that close together.  Weather looks like it could be a mess, rain/snow, so think mud.  I will finish that damn thing though.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nothing Quite Like a Personal Worst


I ran the Moab Red Hot 55K last Saturday.  This was the 3rd time I've run it over the years and the other two times I managed times down close to six hours.  Yep, not this year.  So what went wrong?  Did anything go wrong?
My training so far for the year hasn't been what it was last year, but not my worst start to the year.  I'm healthy, solid in the gym, solid on the trail, solid with my speedwork.  In other words I should have been fine.  And I was fine during the race.
It was indeed a beautiful day for running in Moab.  Clear sunny skies, patchy snow on the red rocks, solid snow in the La Salle's.  Very pretty.

Race Time

When the race started, I felt great.  I took it easy up the initial hill.  I wasn't out to break ay speed records, just have a solid day.
Amie pulling away
I spent a few miles chatting with Amie Blackham, she's always fun to run with, but she's also faster than me and after a couple of miles, she pulled away.  I got to the first aid station and grabbed some coke and took off.  I felt really good.  My uphill running was actually running, I was catching people.  Lots of fun.  We climbed up to the overlook and headed to the next aid station.  Here I grabbed some coke again, nothing solid though.  I didn't feel like I needed it yet, I'd get food later.  Got back to the first aid station and once again, just grabbed some liquid.  This was at about mile 16.  See a pattern starting to develop here?  Yeah, no calories.  I was drinking fine, but not fueling properly.
Anyway, I made the climb up to the aid station at 22 miles still feeling pretty good.  Here I grabbed 1/4 of a PBJ sandwich, filled my bottles, and took off.  Here is where the wheels came off as well.  as in no lug nuts were holding anything on.  I was reduced to a walk.  I could barely run downhill let alone flats or uphill.  I could walk just fine though.  Now everyone that I had passed earlier was starting to pass me.  It kind of sucked, but my general attitude was, hey it's a great day, I feel fine other than I can't run, so enjoy it, and I did.  Eventually I crossed the finish line.  There was barely anyone left there.  At least my lovely wife and sister-in-law were,  Karl Meltzer was waiting for me there as well, although I think he was just drinking  beer.  So, my final time was 7:57.  Yeah, a full hour and a half slower than ever before at this race.  Still, I had a good time, it was a beautiful day for a run.
This gave new meaning to the term "slickrock"


So what went wrong?  Well, I think there are several factors at play here.  So here's the list.
1. I'm 57, maybe I should be slowing down......Nah!
2. I did two very heavy leg workouts at the gym the week prior.  The legs were a bit dead.  That could have something to do with it.
3. I did a climb up Malan's that week at a solid pace.  That will wear you out too.
4. I didn't fuel early and fuel continuously.  I think this is probably the biggest factor.  I basically hit the wall just like you would in a marathon.
So all you young kids out there, let this be a lesson to you, don't get old, keep going to the gym, hit the hills hard, and make sure you fuel properly and adequately.  Oh, and have fun.

La Salle mountains