Sunday, December 29, 2013

Trail Option 2.0

New for 2014, Trail Option is moving to a new website! We hope you'll follow us there. It is our goal to inspire and motivate trail runners of all levels and distances by providing information on daily training routines, local races, and ultra events. The information comes from things we do, with occasional help from coaches and trail running friends. We will also be expanding to provide northern Nevada ultra and trail running news, some gear reviews, and trail information. Keep coming back, and keep going...

The Trail Option website is up and running. Check it out...  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Running out of the cold...

Week Summary 12/15/2013

Ruhenstroth Loop: 9.1 mi (+651 ft); 10:09 pace
Carson River Flats: 7.3 mi (+48 ft); 10:09 pace
Ash Canyon Loop: 7.3 mi (+1,023 ft); 12:08 pace
Run with Rudolph 7M: 7.3 mi (+1,044 ft); 9:40 pace
East Valley Ramble: 22.3 mi (+1,121 ft); 11:05 pace

Weekly Totals: 52.9 mi (+3,887 ft); 9:28:06 on trail

I managed a good steady week of Base training in generally bone-crushing low temperatures. I think we are stuck in this for a while, but the mid-day sun is making things doable. Surprising, for no reason, that there is so little snowcover here at Solsticeshire and on the Ruhenstroth trails, but so much more in Eagle Valley around Carson City.

The difference in snowcover became very clear on Thursday afternoon as I previewed the Rudolph 7M course. Right from the car I was crunching through a trail of snow at that aggravating depth that just fills the tops of your shoes. It only increased as I entered Ash Canyon. I figured Saturday's race wouldn't use the creekside single-track, but because it's more interesting than the canyon's fireroad I chose it, only to find one other set of tracks and was soon post-holing calf-deep. Even the switchbacks of the upper Evidence trail required some shallow post-holing. I knew Saturday's race might be interesting.

Desna and I bundled up for the Ascent Winter Trail Series' Run with Rudolph 7M trail (er, snow) run early Saturday morning. A good group of brave runners huddled in the parking lot of Western Nevada College to hear Kevin's startline instructions. "The trail markings are painted in white."  Funny guy. It's a casual affair with a bit of competition, but mostly a challenge to navigate the Ash Canyon trails in conditions rather unsuitable for "racing". But it was a blast. I felt pretty comfortable with a good pace on the 1,000-foot climb and pretty fast on the squirrely downhill. Guided by an icy cross-country ski track (I remembered it from Thursday), the descent simply begged you to turn an ankle or trip into a fall as your feet struggled between the ice of the track and the powder of the snow. The track felt fast until you broke through or stumbled where someone upfront had done the same. I was surprised I pulled away from a couple followers, probably only because I had "practiced" the descent a couple days previously and knew it would end soon enough. I great winter tune-up and motivator. 7th place in 1:10:02.

I warned Desna away from the 7M because navigating the snow seemed a bit cruel for her first event in her forward-looking trail training. She ran and power-hiked the 3M in good form and it was fun to compare our snow-day afterwards.

Out for a Long Base day on Sunday. Toured a series of excellent two-track dirt roads through the foothills of the Pine Nuts, working my way to our friend Marta's house at the Carson River. Almost perfect day, upper 40s (finally!) and excellent sunshine. Basically no snow on that side of the valley except in a few drifts and steep northern slopes. The run allowed me to break a 50-mile week again. I hadn't done that since Leadville. Feels really good, if the weather cooperates there's more ahead.

Seven miles in, looking back toward Ruhenstroth

Foothills below Sunrise Pass

Route potential!

Dropping into Carson River at 15 miles


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Season's Blend...

Week Summary 12/8/2013

Deadmans - Scripps Loop: 7.8 mi (+1,455 ft); 11:15 pace
Carson River Flats: 6.0 mi (+31 ft); 9:48 pace
Goni Hill Repeats: 6.7 mi (+1,121 ft); 11:05 pace
Ruhenstroth No. 5: 6.6 mi (+596 ft); 10:35 pace
Lower Pine Nut Loop: 14.6 mi (+1,079 ft); 11:31 pace

Weekly Totals: 41.8 mi (+4,282 ft); 7:39:35 on trail

The blurring of the seasons is upon us - a winter deep-freeze in the last weeks of fall, Darren, Desna, and I are ramping up and signing up for 2014, and Dennis and Mary capped an amazing 2013 "50/70" season with gold.

First, hearty congrats to Mom and Dad. Thirteen races - one ultra, five marathons, a few "halfs", and some miscellaneous distances where they racked up the miles, the podium hardware, and, the best part, immeasurable success. Anywhere between Moab and Grand Junction, the race directors recognize the senior elites when they show up. They took home age-group gold in Moab this weekend. We are all chasing and being led by these two, keep going!

Cold over Ruhenstroth
Second, and way less news-worthy, the Nevada Trail Option team ran in the snow this week. I looped through the Deadmans - Scripps area in exhilarating white-out during winter storm Cleon (thanks Weather Channel) and ended the miles-abbreviated week in the deep chill of Dion, the winter storm that stole my long day. Although I missed the long day, I was rewarded with the discovery of a quality Ruhenstroth loop which is likely to become my go-to hour. This particular outing had a couple highlights. In crackly, perfect running snow (you know it when you're in it) I climbed the rolling hills into windless, alpenglow sunset. If it wasn't getting dark so fast, I might have gotten that long run in motivated only by the beauty of being out there. And then, wait, those are a Hoka tracks! Des was out here somewhere on a late loop of her own. Later, the topic of debate was who saw the better sunset.

Making tracks on Pine Nut Road
Sunday was a bone-chilling but sunny day, so I set out on a bit of a make-up for the missed long run and trounced through the snow for 14.6 miles in almost three hours. I made it to the valley below Mount Siegel but ran into some fence issues coming down Pine Nut Creek, seems I was already on the wrong side of the fence, I had to climb over to read the No Trespassing notice. Odd that I could get there without any clues otherwise. Such a good loop, I'll have to research a detour where I don't have to hop fences, backwards or not. It was 16° when I made the house just as the sun set behind Jobs Peak. It was a long one after all.

Toward Mount Siegel
Locked gates ahead, but good snow now.
Speaking of Hoka tracks, Darren shared the trail of a big cat up on Jumbo Grade. He'd ventured out into the deep snow of Washoe Valley Saturday morning until he found he might soon have a workout partner - a little extra motivation for the descent.

Signed up for the +TRT 100 lottery and registered for the Ascent Runs Winter Trail Series for some good times with Kevin and the great trail runners from the area. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

More like it...

Week Summary 12/1/2013

Eagle Ridge
C-Hill South Loop: 5.7 mi (+1,040 ft); 11:44 pace
Deadmans - Scripps Loop: 7.8 mi (+1,408 ft); 11:23 pace
Ruhenstroth No. 3: 5.2 mi (+578 ft); 11:30 pace
Genoa - Eagle Ridge Loops: 14.9 mi (+2,594 ft); 11:59 pace
Ruhenstroth No. 4: 5.7 mi (+437 ft); 10:55 pace

Weekly Totals: 39.3 mi (+6,036 ft); 7:35:31 on trail
November Totals: 104.7 mi (+9,643 ft); 19:09:16 on trail

Yes, finally. Feels great to be back into it. Still easing up in the mileage, but this was a good, albeit slow, trail running. Thanks for that! And maybe the last of the warm weather for a while, so even better to take advantage of it.

The C-Hill south trails remain in great shape, really like the "new" single-track on the south side but still haven't found its start point. On Wednesday, after starting on Goni Road I met Darren on the Deadmans trail and we cruised slowly up Scripps and back down Goni. He had taken the day off, I was still on my mid-work trail time. Great to hit the trail with Darren.

Skipped Thanksgiving Day and burned it off on Friday on the trails south of the house -- such a nice and easy escape, right out the front gate.

Carson Valley from Genoa Trails
Saturday's Long run had me looking for a little elevation gain, with a goal of 3,000 feet over about 3.5 hours. With that in mind I headed to the Genoa Trails, now straight across the Carson Valley from the house. Perfect day on a wonderful single-track with a few stretches of road through the town of Genoa. The trail map made it look a little more elevation gain than I'd planned, adding the Genoa Trail and the Eagle Ridge Trail loops I should get about 4,200, so I'd cut back on the time. I headed out for a great figure eight. It's excellent trail and the distance and time was about what I expected. But to my surprise, the Garmin calculated just shy of 2,600 for both loops. On the map the 8.2-mile Genoa Loop is listed at 2,550 feet gain -- the Garmin mileage was spot-on, but, wow, that's some difference in gain. Oh well, it is a fantastic trail and I'll be hitting it a lot. Wrapped up the week with a Ruhenstroth jog to creep near 40 miles for the week.

Ruhenstroth Single-track above Solsticeshire
Des has joined the trail running adventure to get physically and mentally prepared for some equine events. She's even got us signed up for the Monument Valley 50K in March. And Footfeathers has set her up a training schedule to get her prepped. She jumped right into it Saturday by working the first miles of the Eagle Ridge trail. Probably a little stout until she gets some legs back under her, but she enjoyed the return to running. She even brought home some bloody hands after taking a fall in some talus on just above the trailhead. Then she jumped on Strider for a few miles. Now that's a Saturday.

Dennis and Mary took age-group honors at the Grand Junction Turkey Trot on the streets of Grand Junction. Their huge season will be wrap up next week at the Winter Sun 10K.

It's hard to believe that it's lottery and registration time for next season. The Trail Option calendar is filling nicely. I'm committed to three 100s next year: Zion, TRT, and The Bear; I've signed up for Zion and Bear, the TRT lottery/registration is next week.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

It's a Start...

Week Summary 11/24/2013

Mexican Dam OB: 6.2 mi (+134 ft); 10:16 pace
Ash Canyon Loop: 6.0 mi (+871 ft); 10:36 pace
Mexican Ditch OB: 4.7 mi (+40 ft); 9:44 pace
Sammamish River Trail OB (WA): 12.1 mi (+75 ft); 10:29 pace
Residential Inn OB (WA): 5.8 mi (+177 ft); 10:29 pace

Weekly Totals: 34.9 mi (+1,296 ft); 6:01:18 on trail

We are getting settled into Solsticeshire, our home outside Gardnerville, Nevada, so it was time to get things rolling again. I'd done about 36 easy miles in November, during the move, and leading up to this week, so it felt really good to be on the trail again. I kept it pretty easy on the local trails and enjoyed some asphalt trails in the suburbs of Seattle, where we joined Dennis and Mary and a great group of locals for our daughter's wedding. It was a great time, and so good to hit a five-day, 30-plus week again. Starting to search for events and goals for next year.

My first goal of 2014 has already been crushed. Rules are rules, but as I wrapped up my 2013 season I was sure I had a Western States qualifier in the bag. I'd had a good time at the Antelope Island 100 in the spring, and though I was defeated at Leadville, I still thought I'd be in the Western States lottery for the 2014 event. I learned different when I went to sign up last weekend. The Antelope Island 50 remains a qualifier but the 100 has been dropped from the list in the last few years. So qualifying twice in (almost) the same day doesn't count. Seems a bit silly, but I should have checked. Even sillier, I ran about 40% of the Headlands 50M (a qualifier) while Darren competed in that event, thereby gaining his qualifier. Had I only known. 

There have been some tidal shifts in qualifying requirements for a number of events primarily due to the popularity of certain events where participant numbers are limited by permitting requirements or long-held race culture. It's isn't necessarily a big deal for someone like me. I don't mind qualifying and I don't mind lotteries, and I want most events to maintain some sense of sanity. I'll look for other opportunities, and because Western States is one I'd really like to do, I'll seek other qualifiers.

But it's early, time to get the feet under me and get the base ready for 2014.  Here's to another week of forward movement.

Footnote: Dad's St. George Race Report is the most popular post in the two-year run of Trail Option. Ok, I'll have him post more often.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

St. George Marathon Race Report (A guest post by Dennis Young)

Permanently Set at 4:55
An exceptional day for racing in southwest Utah as the temperature probably didn't get out of the 60s even at the finish line. It's not always that nice.

It started out quite a bit cooler as we boarded the 5th of  56 buses at 4 AM. The start line was, it seemed, in a different climate zone when they let us out 26.2 miles to the north along State Highway 18 -- wind chill was in the lower 20s, and straight from the north. The pre-dawn scene is surreal. Bright lights casting long shadows on runners as they grab an aluminum Mylar cape from the volunteers and a pair of recycled cotton gloves from the huge stacks on a table. The first couple hundred of us, just off the first buses, ran to the far end of the 50 wood stacks. The silver capes flapping madly in the wind reflecting the red glow of the first cedar fires.  The flames stretch horizontal with the wind and it is, to us, the 'classic' pre-race scene at St George Marathon scene. You won't see this in Boston or New York!  It stays in memory almost as much as the finishing chute and crowds. Almost.

It was an hour and a half before the gun. We huddled around the horizontal fires (avoiding the south end!) and everyone started to talk about races past; the cold, heat, and driving rain. Our tale of the mosquitoes at Little Grand Canyon marathon brought some real, 'Oh my Gods!'  Hot embers were everywhere and both of us soon had holes burned through our poly warm up pants. 

Let's do this.
Then there is the rush of 6,000 to undress from storm gear. We bag it, toss it in the truck then shivering hard we went up the embankment to the road.  Somewhere the national anthem is playing? We guess the gun fires or horn blows? Who knows? The crowd starts surging, then walking, then trotting, then hitting pace. We punch the Garmin and we are off with a, suddenly friendly, wind helping at our backs. A year of training and racing comes to this moment! Let's do it.

We felt great hitting a sub 10:00 pace for 5 of the first 7 miles. Surprised to pass the first 10K pad 2 minutes faster than our goal splits. Mary faster than her 10K PR set 2 years earlier, in a 10K only race, when she was a youngster of 68! We tossed our warm up shirts, purchased at Goodwill the day prior, at the aid station somewhere along here. The sun came in and felt wonderful. The spreading of light over the red rock and desert is beyond description.

We did the 'hill' over the shoulder of Veyo volcano with little trouble. It slowed us as we had predicted and built in, and by the time we ran over the half marathon timing pad we were only 2 minutes behind goal and holding a 10:36 average pace. All good.

We handled the AS stops (they were every odd mile after 3 miles) pretty good just flying through grabbing a glass of Gatorade or water and perhaps an orange slice. Getting a little fast walking in here. We did pretty good on the gels at every 45 minutes or hour as long as we were close to a water break. Maybe not as regular on the gels as the day wore on.
The 13.1-mile mark is a good point. It's half over and you start to feel things tighten up. Any elevation gain is pretty much over except for a few rolling hills but the trend is definitely down. And getting steeper. At 18.6mi (30K) we passed over the last timing chip pad and recorded a 3:20 elapsed time holding a 10:46 pace. We wanted a 10:39 ave pace here but we had some padding in there now because we knew what was coming. The 'marathon' was about to begin for us. Pain? Cramps? Who knows? We still felt pretty good. About 3 minutes off our splits. We kept talking. We are now in the final push. It happens every time.

At about this time I stopped for an 'icy-hot' rub down on my calves. Nice. It took a few seconds. I had no problems like last year at all. Just prevention. Everything was feeling really tight. In the last six miles there are some steep curving descents; it's hear that Mary had some bad cramping start. We rubbed real hard and smoothed them each time. We had swallowed some Advil in prevention a couple of miles back. It seemed to help also. We rubbed out the hamstring cramps several times and after the hills, and the edge of town, we got passed the worst of them. For the most part. Our planned splits in this last section should account for the slow down fine.
Then it was just a block and a mile at a time. We had one, relatively slow, sub-14 mile, but for the most part we were sub-12 pace as planned. Mary's legs were getting 'noodily'. You can work through pain but when parts just give out and legs wobble on their own accord, the brain can try, but commands to legs sometimes just don't make it down there. We grabbed on to each other, sometimes by hand and whole arm but she ran and ran through what was a very courageous last mile. We just had to make sure she didn't fall. She was bound and determined that wouldn't happen! 

The last quarter mile passed extremely slow.  But our pace shows we were still under 12:00! I watched the Garmin on my free arm and knew we had the 5:00 beat!! It was closer to the 4:55 (her Boston Qualifier) goal if we just kept moving. The long finish line chute was amazing with the crowd, three and four deep, waving and yelling at us. Many reached for high fives. It felt like we were walking but we both hit our highest heart rate of the entire race as we passed the chip pad.

There is nothing like that relief.  The finish line crew gathered around. We are OK. We are OK. They put the finishers medal on us and we kept walking knowing the dizzies can flatten you if you don't. Been there before.

Water, ice cream, walking, Portrait photo we can hardly remember. Then over to the grass and very slowly sat down. I checked the charts. Official time. Together. 4:55:16. We got our first sub 5:00 marathon!! By almost 5 minutes. Mary missed her Boston qualifying time by 16 seconds but it was that goal, and breaking 5:00, that got us to 4:55 and the finish line. Thank you Boston Qualifier! We even beat the gun time 5:00 with a 4:58:57. I love it.

In a field of 2,653 women Mary got first place in the 70-74 age group over two other women of that age. It meant a top step in the podium platform with the top male 70-74, Bill Peck a 20-time runner of this marathon. It's Mary's second time at St George and her fifth marathon in 12 months! In the hour since the finish, recovery came fast and she climbed the step handily while the announcer noted that Mary Young, with a 4:55:16, has obviously sent her daughter up to receive her award! Quite a compliment for that champion athlete of 70. My eyes were so wet I could hardly see my camera view finder. She received a nice clock trophy and $150. The hands of that clock will be forever set at 4:55:16.

Trail Option Team-runner Mary Young - #1 Spot on the St. George Podium
I ended with the same time and placed 24 of 39 in my age group, fifteen of which qualified for Boston doing better than a 4:25. Bill Peck, who Mary shared the podium with, finished with a 3:36. Amazing. (Coincidentally we became quick friends with Bill and his wife the evening before the race when we met them at the finish line where they were also getting a final quick, and quiet, look at what we would both be striving for in a few hours.)
The Sub-Fivers

The day before the race at the packet pickup expo at the convention center, Dick Beardsley, gave a memorable keynote speech. Beardsley isn't as well known, outside racing circles, as the man he almost beat in the 1982 Boston Marathon. He and Alberto Salazar fought the famous "Dual in the Sun". It's a good story to hear before a race; even if you are racing against the clock, as we were, instead of another runner. This is in the days before they even had aid stations and fences to keep people out of the road. Strangers had to hand you water. Maybe. Salazar didn't drink any water on a very hot day. Beardsley missed beating him by 2 seconds and Salazar needed 6 IV bottles afterward.

We talked with Beardsley later and he signed our bibs, inscribing his time on them from that day in Boston over 30 years ago.  It is inspiring what he did in those last few seconds. But actually secondary to the trials in the rest of his life. He has told the story hundreds of times since but describing those last few hundred yards seems to takes almost 15 minutes.

Almost as long as it takes you to read about OUR last hundred yards but it helps for us to write about it!

We both have it now as part of our 50@70 year. At a quiet time, far into the future, we both might turn to each other and say, "Remember when we turned that final corner in the '13 St. G......?"  "Oh yes! But also... there was that finish line through the trees at Grand Mesa....and...."

Fall Break...

I've been doing hill repeats lately, lots of them. Ok, it's going up-and-down stairs with boxes over-and-over again, but it's gotta be doing some good. The move to our new digs at Fish Springs, NV, is underway. I should say it's been underway, the process is rather exciting but it mostly requires the endurance mindset to get through the mountains of paperwork, the addled route finding between realtors and financiers, and the moving finish lines (we'll close when? on which house?). Because we close at Fish Springs tomorrow, this week will transition from packing and staging boxes in VC to painting and carpeting out there. Ultimate moving day is October 29th.

So it's been a move-induced Fall Break. Beautiful conditions for a move, even better if your out running some fall trails. The fall colors through the eastern Sierra have been exceptional. I've managed a few hour-here, hour-there runs, just in hopes of some up-keep. Footfeathers sent me a new training schedule, but it'll wait until the move is over, say, November 1st for a good re-start. Get ready for some Winter Trail Series runs and start the trail to the 2014 ultra season.

Under 5 hours at the St. George Marathon (Both at 4:55:16)
But my break has meant nothing to the other Young Mountain Runners! As I write Dennis and Mary are at the starting line of the Other Half Marathon in Moab, UT, ready to continue their huge 50/70 year. This is on the heels of their sub-5 efforts at the St. George Marathon. Mom took 1st in her AG with 4:55:16, just 16 seconds shy of a Boston Qualifier! Dad finished with the same time, but has some super competition in his age-group; mom's the dominator. They achieved a huge PR by dropping below the 5-hour mark for the first time. What a great day, even though it wasn't a trail, we followed closely at home, waiting every second of the 4:55:16 for the automatic texts from time stations along the way.  Dad's race report follows as a special guest post here at Trail Option.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Keeping steady...

Week Summary 9/22/2013

Ash Canyon Loop: 6.8 mi (+969 ft); 11:04 pace
Carson River Flats: 7.3 mi (+44 ft); 10:24 pace
South Washoe to VC: 15.1 mi (+3,185 ft); 11:53 pace
Combination Short: 2.9 mi (+222 ft); 10:12 pace

Weekly Totals: 32.1 mi (+4,421 ft); 6:00:13 on trail

Given the pending relocation of the domestic trailhead of Trail Option, my primary goal of late has been to maintain my fitness level and keep my head clear through the ups-and-downs of buying, selling, escrow, planning, etc...  I hope to have some good news soon.

My general maintenance strategy has been to keep the mid-week runs at a Base level and run as time allows. This is followed by a weekend Long effort that has averaged 15 miles over about three hours each Saturday. Those runs have been nicely varied and very fun. A couple weeks ago Darren and I joined the Tahoe Mountain Milers at Kingsbury South to run an out-and-back on the TRT. The haze of the devastating Rim Fire had yet to clear, but our group managed to get above it, mostly. Last week, I accompanied Darren as he ran the Headlands 50 north of San Francisco. We stayed in Novato and on Saturday morning Darren toed the line with over 100 runners for the 50 Mile, as he sought a Western States qualifier. He ran a smart and steady effort to finish 22nd in 9:27:17 (he's now qualified). The 50-mile course has at least 10,000 feet gain. While he ran, I explored the course, occasionally mingling with contestants as we shared sections of trail.

This week I picked up the mileage a bit and enjoyed a great run from the south side of Washoe Lake. An early season storm rolled in and I had some great rain squalls (and even some snow-pellets on McClellan Peak) as I worked my way back to Virginia City. This week I poached trail from the VC100 equine endurance race, and though I was eventually passed by two riders (including our friend Lou) I kept a good distance between groups of competitors. It was funny to run into one of their aid stations and be offered a carrot or two (that's better than some of the Leadville stations!). It rained for about half of the 15-mile run. Always an enjoyable oddity of high-desert running; I hadn't been rained (or snowed) on since the Buffalo 100 last march.

The Trail Option team has also been busy on the Senior circuit. Dennis and Mary kept pace in their 50/70 year at the Little Grand Canyon Marathon in the Buckhorn Wash of the San Rafael Swell in Utah. The heat and mosquitoes required some adaptations but they worked hard and came close to beating six hours - a good feat given the conditions. Although they couldn't really compete in their hard-core age-group (50-99), as the most senior competitors in the event, they finish 37th and 38th out of 45 competitors. It was their fourth marathon or better race this year! Next up, St. George. Nice.

Looking forward to some Fall events once the dust settles and I know my new address; until then, we'll keep steady...

Previous Weeks...

Week Summary 9/15/2013


Carson River Flats: 4.6 mi (+19 ft); 9:49 pace
Goni East: 3.9 mi (+515 ft); 11:06 pace
Marin Headlands Loop: 15.8 mi (+3,077 ft); 12:48 pace

Weekly Totals: 24.3 mi (+3,611 ft); 4:50:11 on trail

Week Summary 9/8/2013


EF Treadmill: 4.0 mi (+0 ft); 10:10 pace
Goni East: 4.8 mi (+581 ft); 11:43 pace
TRT - Monument Pass OB: 15.3 mi (+2,393 ft); 12:27 pace

Weekly Totals: 24.3 mi (+2,973 ft); 4:46:49 on trail

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Back into the Haze

Week Summary 9/1/2013

Combination Short: 3.0 mi (+178 ft); 10:35 pace
Deadmans Scripps Loop: 6.4 mi (+1,186 ft); 11:35 pace
Weekly Totals: 9.3 mi (+1,364 ft); 1:45:06 on trail
August Totals: 132.9 mi (+17,019 ft); 33:24:13 on trail

The echoes of Leadville have all but faded and I'm feeling very ready to get back on the trail. It is only the search for the variables (fuel, elevation, training flaws??) that brings the occasional reflection on my DNF. I want to learn from the experience, but I'm also ready to move forward.

The smoke plume from the Rim Fire near Yosemite has become semi-permanent along the eastern front, bring Unhealthy air-quality readings to Carson, Reno, and beyond. There's no way I'm going out in that. But I begin to ache from the inactivity, should I hit the treadmill? 

Saturday morning, however, dawned unexpectedly clear and it was time to begin again. I bopped easily out to the Combination Mine and came back home, jonesing to tack on some miles but knowing I should ease back into things. It was nice to have a relatively haze-free day, but the plume hung ominously to the south so that even a minor return of southerly wind would bring its return. On Sunday, that's what happened. Darren and I managed to beat it with an early-morning jog around Nine Mile Hill via Scripps and Deadmans. We rustled up my first rattlesnake of the year in the first half-mile, but, other than a odd helicpoter buzzing the canyons, it was a nice cruise before the smoke settled in. 

Great to be on the trail again...  I've no big plans right now. Will probably accompany Darren to the Headlands 50 in a couple weeks; while Darren races I can get in some trails at Rodeo Beach. A 50K at Graegle, California, looks interesting at the end of the month. Then my thoughts turn to finishing the Tahoe Rim Trail on the Desolation and Barker Pass segments. It's time to complete that loop, though in segmented fashion. The smoke needs to clear up so I can get into a bit of a routine again; let's hope that Tuolumne gets some rain soon.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hubris of Leadville - A Race Report

Hope Pass and Elbert from Tabor at Turquoise Lake
The Eve of Leadville
Week Summary 8/18/2013

Maple Grove Trails (UT): 3.7 mi (+380); 10:21 pace
Turquoise Shaker (CO): 2.1 mi (+115 ft); 10:00 pace
Leadville 100 (CO): 76.6 mi (+12,061 ft); 18:11 pace

Weekly Totals: 82.4 mi (+12,511 ft); 24:18:28 on trail

Months of preparation – physical, mental, and financial – led to Leadville where, this past weekend, I toed the line on 6th Street with almost 1,000 runners. I felt well prepared and ready to run a fast time, capturing a silver buckle of “under 25 hours” seemed doable. I probably should have relaxed and simply enjoyed the run, because instead of a shiny new buckle, I can only hobble away with a DNF.  I set some lofty goals and at times in the past few weeks, even several hours into the race, I felt it was likely to come together. But mountain runs, especially 100-milers, have a way of putting things back in perspective and of putting even a little exuberance back in its place.

I was pulled from the race at 3:18 AM having missed the 23-hour mandated cut-off time (3:00 AM) at the Outward Bound – Fish Hatchery Aid Station, 77 miles after starting in downtown Leadville at 4:00 AM. How did I get there?

The alarm went off in the trailer at Father Dyer Campground on Turquoise Lake at 2:30 AM – a few clouds, but rather warm for 10,000 feet in elevation. I did my typical pre-race intake of banana-blueberry smoothie with yogurt and Udo’s Oil along with 20 ounces of Roctane electrolyte as we got ready. At about 3:20, Dennis, Mary, and I headed for downtown while Des took the truck to the Mayqueen Aid Station (Mile 13.5). She’d meet Dad and Mom back at camp after I came through that first station.

The Start - a 4 AM crowd (Mile 0.0)
At the start line at 6th and Harrison, I joined several other runners in the morning ritual of hoping to get into a porta-john. Successful, I got into the start chute so that I’d be about 20 people deep and waited at the edge of the barricade. In this position I could hand my jacket to Dad and Mom a minute or so before the gun. I was feeling very ready at this point, relatively relaxed and simply wanting to get underway. I’d never started with a field this large, spread across an entire street and each person ensconced in their own personal headlamp halo. I’d long dreaded the single-track pinch at Turquoise where we’d encounter the rocks, stumps, and roots of the trail. But for now, we stood through a cheesy recording of the national anthem, I handed my jacket away, and the countdown culminated in a shot-gun blast ringing through town – it’s 4 AM, time to run.

I held an easy pace down 6th Street actually finding it pretty easy-going, not as crowded as I expected. I ran the first 5K in 28 minutes, a little fast but all downhill and easy.  I couldn’t see much around me but I had a pretty good feeling of where I was. Things bogged down at the first real hill below Turquoise Dam, but it’s short and soon we crossed to the single-track.  The hill staggered the runners enough to make the transition to single-track uneventful. I soon set a comfortable pace, probably a little under a 10 min-mile, and decided I’d simply sit in and let those that wanted to pass, pass. As long as I was going smoothly, I wouldn’t pass anyone, I’d just keep an even spacing so I could watch the trail.

There was a lot of chatter on this section. Most of it seemed to be old-timers coaching rookies on what to expect, where to look, how to get it done. The advice varied from the immediate – make sure you drink – to advice on how to navigate this same trail on the inbound twenty-some hours from now. I was feeling so good I didn’t care what they said and simply enjoyed the endless string of headlamps circumnavigating the lakeside trail.  It appeared to have no beginning and no end so I figured I was placed just about right, midstream in the scheme of things.

I saw Dad and Mom quickly at Tabor boat ramp where they had walked over from camp. I was about seven miles in. A bit later, I’d just turned off my headlamp in the growing sunlight when I transitioned to the pavement of the Mayqueen Campground.  I cruised through the station in 2:15 just a bit ahead of my projected splits and feeling great. Exiting the gauntlet of cheering people, it seemed like thousands lining the little campground road, was exhilarating and one of my craziest experiences in running, ever. And then I saw Des waiting with my Nathan pack. I dropped off my headlamp and handhelds, squeezed into the pack, took a sip of coffee, and headed out. Perfect.

The climb on the short section of the Colorado Trail to Hagerman Road passed quickly. I broke between a walk and a run on the single track and easily jogged the road as it climbed to Sugarloaf. It was still a little crowded with runners but the graded dirt road spread things out. I was relieved to be away from Turquoise but already missed the single-track. The climb is moderate and you quickly rise above the lake and the early morning views confirm you are truly engrossed in Leadville. With the summit upon me, I dropped down the other side chatting with a young runner from Washington DC, a roadrunner who’s picked Leadville as a first 100. I let him run away.

I tried to hold it in on the steep descent to the Hatchery road. I’d run this before and remembered most of it very clearly. Crossing a creek, I was soon scrambling onto the road and turning to the 23-mile Aid Station. Yes, road. There is a crazy amount of road running in the Leadville Trail 100. Probably ten percent or more is heavily traveled two-lane road. It’s the first of several cracks in the boastful reputation surrounding the event. For a few minutes, however, I forget it because I’m entering another string of race fans and well-wishers prior to the Aid Station. I easily forget I’ve almost completed a marathon in about 4:30 and enjoy the festivities. Until I run into the cars.

The traffic – oh, the traffic – of crew vehicles is a huge conundrum. And here, we are sharing the road with the traffic as we leave the station. My crew has smartly chosen to skip Outward Bound and go directly to Treeline, Pipeline, or Halfpipe Crew Area (whatever it’s called) to avoid this traffic mess. I check in and out and re-join the road to run along white fog-line while the traffic nudges past. It gets old quickly.

Mary and Des at Treeline (5:15; 9:15 AM Mile 26.5)
It’s a relief to leave the pavement and head toward the forest. I meet the crew at the “treeline” and trade my Nathan for handhelds. This is the first race I’ve used a gel bottle holding the equivalent of five gel packets. It stows nicely in my pocket and keeps things simple – a good idea. I seem to be keeping up with the intake too.  The climb to Half Pipe is gradual and I skip through the aid station having just seen my crew a couple miles earlier. I’m now on a nice section of dirt road changing to the Elbert section of the Colorado Trail, now we are trail running. But it seems to take a long time, and I understand why Darren struggled with the inbound portion of this in 2011. I top off my bottles at Elbert (fluids only) station and begin the steep drop to Twin Lakes. Still on target.

The drop into Twin Lakes is a blast. I take it easy trying to not pound the downhill and soon I’m in the town. My wonderful crew has taken up a spot at the cabin of John Trent’s crew (the Trent Family) just past the fire-station. Here, I gulp down an Ensure and trade my handhelds for the Nathan with my poles attached. I’m a little over 8 hours in at 40 miles and feeling very good. But it’s also here that the cracks in my race and the event in general begin to grow.

I didn’t expect the climb to Hope Pass to be completely un-runnable. I’m not sure why, but I thought there’d be a few more switchback sections. It’s a good hike and I try to keep a rhythm going. Soon enough, the front of the pack comes cruising the downhill. At intervals, I step aside for Mike Aish, Ian Sharman, and Nick Clark, along with their pacers. I actually only recognize Nick, as he’s sporting his usual Pearl Izumi jersey. He gives me a cheerful “good work” as he passes. Not long thereafter I see Footfeathers coming down the trail. Wow, I think, but then his pace seems different as he stops to tell me his body just won’t let him continue and that he’s dropped at Hopeless. As we pause, Hal Koerner comes by pacing Scott Jurek who doesn’t look so good but is still moving quickly downhill.

Although the chaotic mix of inbound and outbound runners is just beginning, Hopeless Aid Station still has the feel of its classic reputation. The llamas are grazing nearby and a few tents dot the little plateau just above tree-line. I pause to fill my water and continue the walk upward; I’m now an hour and a half behind my projected pace and have to re-focus on the now crowded trail. There is, however, a highlight that makes Leadville special. An exceptional mountain panorama spreads out before me as I attain Hope Pass. It jolts me to life and I’m suddenly looking forward to running into the scenery below.

Start and stop, start and stop. I’m trying to be courteous to those climbing the steep trail but it’s frustrating. Little packs of runners moving in opposite directions on the narrow trail. The climbers are hurting in their efforts, but we wait. Off the trail, it’s too steep to pass side-by-side. But I guess this is the nature of this segment of the race.

John Trent (Reno, NV) falls in behind me as we approach Winfield. It is here that it becomes evident that the event has taken a turn for the worse. We drop onto the road and begin a jog among two-way vehicle traffic, most of which isn’t moving. It’s a slalom course between sideview mirrors and scattered crews. Des sees John first as I missed their little set-up, but then she escorts us both to the Aid Station. Once over the timing mat, it’s complete chaos. The small station tent was a mess, so I simply grabbed a coke, got my water filled, and left the tent. That was my plan anyway. Turns out that Des, Dennis, and Mary had to hike into Winfield from several miles down the road, having seen the traffic situation ahead. It was almost as tough for them as it had been for me. I should have left a drop-bag at this station, but then I heard that it often took considerable time for drop-bags to be retrieved by the few volunteers struggling with the onslaught of traffic, crews, and runners. Who knows? But thanks to my crew for the beyond-the-call effort, I felt better for seeing them. Although we sat inches from idling traffic, I paused at Winfield for too long – almost a half-hour. I left at 13:15 into the run.

The climb back to Hope went pretty well and I kept the pace I’d projected for that upward and inbound section, and that includes my idle at Winfield. But Hopeless was beginning to look pretty ragged. It’s designed to be a “safety” station supported by hearty volunteers who pack their llamas in-and-out several times in preparation. It wouldn’t work without them. But they were overwhelmed, and supplies were running low. Runners shared broth from a single metal cup, others scavenged a cup or two from trash bags. I donned a warm shirt and my headlamp and ducked into the forest. In the dusk I began to lose energy. I fueled with gel but the downhill seem too steep to run, my quads began to revolt. The over-effort started to weigh on me, and my confidence waned. Would I reach Twin Lakes by the cut-off?

And so the chasing of cut-off times began. As I descended, it seemed too many people were passing me. I was eventually at the river-crossing and the water felt great, but I had to keep moving. I tried jogging through the meadow area below Twin Lakes and it seemed to work. But what should have been a beacon (wasn’t I once exhilarated by the cheers), turned again to chaos. I had to get into the timing mat before the cut-off at 17:45. This forced me to run past my crew, though Dad had met me at the highway crossing. We jogged into the firehouse and then found the timing mat. I was in with 18 minutes to spare.

Leaving Twin Lakes (17:50; 9:50 PM Mile 60.5)
It took a little time to get going again. I pulled on some pants and added a second long-sleeved shirt. The station had very little warm food (only oatmeal), but I’d down an Ensure and a Starbucks double-shot can. A volunteer kindly handed me a subway sandwich in a plastic bag, one for the road. And from there I climbed out of Twin Lakes.

I spent the next three and a half hours (really?!) getting to Half Pipe. At times I thought I was going pretty good, but obviously I spent a lot of time simply walking. This should have been a bit of a recovery section due to its gradual downhill following the climb from Twin Lakes. Seems I could barely keep a 20-minute mile going. I could eat just fine; I’d downed the sandwich and kept the gel intake going (I think). The night was perfect, a gibbous moon following the trail, but I couldn’t respond. I made Half Pipe by the cut-off, but I could see the cards about to be dealt.

I moved onward hearing a goofy trumpet far off in the distance, probably someone’s crew at Treeline. But it seemed very far away, and soon I noticed I was on the Treeline dirt road and a few crew cars were parked up ahead. Finally, I came upon my crew where Dad was ready to go – we’d agreed he’d pace me this section to at least the Fish Hatchery. Although I’d suspected my race was about over, it seemed good to keep going. Maybe something would jolt things back in order, and all were encouraging me to keep at it. 

And so Dad and I set out from the same spot I’d joined Darren in 2011. We chatted about that symmetry as we headed toward the dreaded pavement. It was at the road where the trumpet was blaring as a kind of warning of the impending cut-off (it wasn’t an actual trumpet but one of those non-musical horns so common at soccer matches). Quiet please. We jogged the road ever so slowly. I searched for leg-power, but it wouldn’t come. At one point, my pacer even dropped me as another pair passed us. He hung with them until realizing I hadn’t matched up. And then the time cut-off passed as we were about a mile from the station. The lights ahead pulled us in, but I arrived at 17 minutes past 3 AM and 17 minutes beyond the cut-off. My race was over.

The End (23:17; 3:17 AM Mile 76.6)
The Fish Hatchery (i.e., Outward Bound) station was relatively quiet and had certainly seen better times. With a kind hug the station chief cut off my timing band and we climbed into the truck. Soon we were back at camp, the eastern sky just beginning to hint of Sunday morning.

I’m not really sure what happened out there. It is likely that my confidence got the best of me and I enjoyed the early racing too much. I felt pretty good until about 55 miles, the point of my return to Hopeless. There, the combination of effort-at-altitude, downhill hesitation, fuel mismanagement (possibly), and deterioration of the event’s personality (the valiant volunteers, thank you all, were overwhelmed) seemed to conspire against my forward motion. And yet, mountain ultras are all about overcoming obstacles – internal and external – and I lacked the ability, in this case, to do so. It is something I look forward to working on.

The blogosphere is rife with criticism and sadness that storied Leadville has lost its soul. I would have to agree, but that can’t be the cause of my DNF. My exuberance made it fun and allowed me to push harder than I thought I could, but the costs were ultimately too great and I could only continue until time ran out. 

Thanks so much to all the volunteers that kept at it amid the growing chaos. The Trent crew was very generous and happily allowed us to share their Twin Lakes spot; and way to go John! Immeasurable thanks and love to my crew – Desna, Mary, Dennis, and Tephra. You fought the demons with me and even with the setback, I had a most excellent adventure in your company. Dad, I’m proud to have run a little bit with you, wish it could have been more. To Darren, Tim, and all the trail-mates who shared the prep time with me, many thanks – and let’s find some redemption and regain some trail-running soul none too soon. Keep going…