July 30, 2013

Patiently Waiting

So far 2013 has been consistent - consistently off.  A year that started with such promise and potential has turned into disappointment and missed opportunity.   Three races over five months have resulted in a DNS; for me that is unimaginable.  Last Thursday I flew from Missoula to Cleveland for the Burning River 100.  A race I had been looking forward to since I started racing ultras.  The Cleveland Metroparks are where I learned to run and where I grew up.  To race a hundred miles through my favorite trails with my family close by seemed like a dream.  In the end that was all it was.  I was out of the race well before my plane took off in Montana last week.

Throughout my running history I have been fortunate with few injuries.  The only injury I have ever had is the same one that has plagued me since college - femur stress fracture. My first stress fracture came as a lowly, unsuspecting freshman at NCSU.  One day while trying to keep up with the upperclassmen I felt a tightness in my hip and groin.  Several frustrating months later I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the head of my right femur.  That exact injury would resurface twice more before I graduated.  It absolutely killed my chances of being successful in college and is now threatening my trail running goals.  I've tried strengthening my leg, calcium supplements, shoes, softer surfaces,  cross training etc. and I'm right back in the awkward and painfully long stress fracture dance again.  At least this time I stopped at stress reaction instead of the full blown boot, crutches and couch routine.  At least I can say I learned something from an injury that repeats itself in the exact same area despite my holding back and being overly cautious.  Even after reading the most recent medical research - stress fractures are still a mystery.  We know they are becoming more and more common and the diagnoses are more accurate but we are still guessing at causes and prevention.

Despite the lost time, money, fitness and planning, injuries do provide benefits.  Most are mental.  For the last year and a half I have been training like crazy.  Running the mountain trails of Montana everyday is a privilege that i take full advantage of!  BUT it does limit your ability to travel around, bike, hike, camp, float etc. because you need to recover and get ready for the next long run or mountain repeats or race.  Injuries allow you to break the training routine/cycle and enjoy other activities.  It does no good to dwell on the missed training, good weather or races you paid for.  Instead I choose to detach; to drive out to remote areas and explore lakes, peaks and bike new trails.  Remarkably I didn't miss the routine, the workouts, the races and quite enjoyed the sweet freedom to do what ever the hell I wanted when I wanted and without thinking about tomorrow or next week.  Injuries allow you to be in the moment; you can choose to wallow in the misery or embrace the freedom.

That being said, I still feel that passion burning inside to compete, train and challenge myself.  Each time I'm held back, that passion only burns hotter.  I will be patient for now but I will not hold back anymore.  My future training and racing will be different.  I've been relaxed and cautious in my training and racing to avoid being where I am right now.  It is time to make a few changes and be more aggressive with my racing schedule and strategy.   I'm looking forward to being healthy and unleashing later this year.  Until then I will be exploring the country on two wheels and embracing the freedom of being young in one of the most beautiful and wild places our country has to offer!

July 22, 2013

Trail Rail Run - Trail Rail Run - Trail Rail Run

Every time I hear Trail Rail Run I hear Farva saying "Team Ram Rod; say it, Team Ram Rod, why didn't you say it?  Look I even wrote it down...".  If you haven't seen Super Troopers then you should.  Right, so I wanted a little jump start race before Burning River and couldn't find anything that fit the bill.  There were some low key races in Montana and Washington but I wanted rolling terrain that I could push mid to high 5min/mile pace.  I noticed a new race called 'Trail Rail Run' was being put on not too far from Missoula and hit all the criteria BUT the race was brand new, super expensive and a week before I wanted to throw down this hard effort.  In the end I just couldn't find anything to beat the Trail Rail Run so I ponied up the dough, adjusted my training and signed up for my first ultramarathon in beautiful Montana.  Chloe, Lisa and I jumped in the Jeep at 5am and headed West to an old railroad bed in the middle of nowhere Taft, Idaho.  At least Chloe was pumped for new smells.

The Montana Radio Company put on the event which included: 50m, 50k, marathon and 10k race options.  I immediately liked the race's low key atmosphere and prepared myself for 31+ miles of old, uneven, rotting rail beds.  Much to my surprise, the first several miles of the course weren't on the rail bed!  Instead we headed South back into the woods and up over a new trestle and into a pitch black, old railroad tunnel.  I looked up and saw some sharp objects dangling precariously above me, which I believed were icicles. After a quick turnaround we went back through the dark tunnel, over the new trestle and back to the rail bed, which we would follow all the way to the finish.

The first 10-15 miles went by very quickly.  I was running 5:50 min/mile pace and was just cruising.  Every now and then we would turn off into an old town along Highway 90, check in with the aid station volunteers, dip under the highway and head back out to the rail bed.  Then repeat.

Chloe broke up the monotony by chasing me into an aid station.  I had to turn around and run her back to Lisa.  She does look cute trying to hide behind that flower!  Shortly after that picture I turned a corner and spooked two moose who were grazing by an old, abandoned oven...  Nothing to see here folks just two moose standing next to oven on a old rotting rail bed - makes sense.  My presence sent them scrambling down the cliff towards the river.  The noise they created by crashing into and smashing trees, bushes and other foliage was unbelievable.  It sounded as if a train had come off the tracks and tearing through the hillside.  

Somewhere around 2hrs in I glanced at my watch and noticed that I was flying.  I wasn't really pushing hard but was focused on keeping my stride smooth and staying hydrated.  Every once and a while I would look down and notice 5:50...5:40...5:20... shit I'm going too fast... slow down... and repeat.  I came through the marathon in 2hrs 39min and was starting to feel the sun and the fast early pace.

Meanwhile the Clark Fork river was taunting me at every step.  The water looked so blue so cold and refreshing but always just out of reach.  

I come rolling to the last aid station and find out that I still have 12k to go... hmm I should only have 6k but whatever nothing I can really do about it now (The 50k course ended up being around 33.5 miles total).   Adding to that, my gps went berserk in the mountains informing me that I was running 4:00 min/miles when I was really running closer to 6 min/mile pace.  

The last two miles were on road and brand new, rough cut, bumpy trail.  For fear of twisting my ankles I literally slowed to a walk for those last 400 yards.  I ended up crossing the line at 3hrs 28 min for 33.5 miles (avg. 6:13).  I'm very happy with how that hard effort went and am excited for Burning River at the end of July.  Just a little more work to do!

July 10, 2013

Pocatello 50 - A Beautiful Suffer

After countless trips to California (why does the Golden State have a monopoly on competitive races) and passing through the beautiful city of Pocatello, ID, I have had my eye on the Pocatello 50.  The mountains are beautiful and I've only seen what is visible from the highway.  In theory the 50 mile race must be incredible.  Long story short, the beginning of this year has not gone to plan.  Due to abundant rain and unseasonably warm weather the pollen levels in Missoula has been unusually high.  For the past several years I have struggled with allergies that fester and turn into sinus infections.  At the beginning of the year I signed up for Chuckanut 50k and Leona Divide 50m.  Despite being very fit I ended up racing neither due to sinus infections days before each race.  Luckily I was able to scramble and sign up for Gorge Waterfalls and Pocatello.  I didn't prepare for either but showed up with a open mind and let things play out.  Gorge went amazing Pocatello did not.

Pocatello was great, easy 9 hr drive, camping at the start line and relaxing with friends from Missoula the night before.  That is not a typical pre-race for me.  Normally we leave after work at 5pm and drive several hours into the night and then drive several more hours the next day.  Then we cruise into the campground or hotel after dark and get a couple hours of shut eye before the alarm goes off.  Unfortunately, I made a really dumb decision to sleep in the back of our Jeep instead of our spacious tent.  The Jeep is just long enough to lay down but not quite long enough to stretch all the way out.  Of course I forgot that Lisa likes to roll over, talk, elbow, punch and pull your sleeping bag away from you throughout the night.  So for most of the night I found myself shivering in the back of the Jeep, huddled in the corner in a very awkward position with no pillow and with 1/4 of my sleeping bag covering me.  Lisa on the other-hand slept like a baby with all of our  gear surrounding her!  Ultra lesson number 647 - no matter how cold it is outside do not sleep in a Jeep before races especially when Lisa is present.

Who cares - sleep the night before doesn't really matter right?  Ten second count down and we are off.  We follow the road for a short bit and then bank hard left on to the trails.  I settle in behind Mike Wolfe and prepare myself for the excitement of a long day of climbing and descending 50 miles of brand spanking new trails.  Yes!   Mike and I separate from the field and we are cruising and talking.  I had been looking forward to running with Mike for a while and was excited to see how this race would play out.  Then at mile 4 of a 52+ mile race I started feeling, what no one wants to feel this early on a mountainous 50 miles course, fatigue and hamstring tightness.  My initial thought was 'this makes no sense and wont last'.  We are running easier then my normal run pace and I'm out of breath and my hamstrings are killing me.  I had no choice but to stop, let Mike and all of my plans go, and regroup for what I knew could be a very longgggg day.  It reminded me of college when you were starting a difficult anaerobic workout and your were feeling horrible on the first of twelve intervals.  Buckle up!  You have no choice but to dive inward and prepare to suffer.  Just ignore the pain and the fact you still have 49 miles to go....  Fortunately the Pocatello mountains were in full bloom - I diverted my attention to the beautiful wild flowers and scenery that engulfed the smooth single track.  

Mike slowly faded into the distance as the wheels fell off.  The climb up Knife's ridge was insane.  I spent more time pulling cacti needles out of my foot than running.  I was warned about this climb beforehand but I have rarely experienced a climb that I could not run.  At this point Mike was still visible a few hundred feet above me.  At the summit is where things went from bad to worse.  Someone had removed the flagging and I spent the next 15 min off course following a jeep road over a steep decent.  Not only was I off course but I managed to pull a few others with me.  Eventually I regrouped with my friend Justin Angle and we spotted co-race director Jared Campbell's bright green t-shirt way off in the distance.  I figured Mike was now 20+ minutes ahead of me and the race was all but over.  Mike ended up off course here as well but I wouldn't find that out until after the finish.  The long downhill to City Creek aid station was brutal on my tight hamstrings.  Ben Lewis and Justin dusted me on this section.  RD Luke Nelson asked if I was feeling flat .  I lied and told him I felt fine - trying to convince myself that I was.  Sorry Luke!  

Shortly after Mink Creek I caught back up to Justin.  I told him I was struggling well and was trying to forget the off-course shenanigans.  He gave me the best advice of the day - "there's still a lot of wood to chop".  Honestly those words kept me going during my short stints in what Lisa and I refer to as "cranky town".  Here I was healthy, fit and with the chance to race hard with great competition on a beautiful and challenging mountain course but instead I was delicately jogging along with tight hamstrings ?#*!^@#!.  I just want to race!  When things go horribly wrong and I want to quit, I try to think about the people who are struggling to make the cutoffs.  If they are willing to continue and suffer for 12, 24, 36 hrs then i can suck it up and suffer too - so I did.

(this is ugly)

On the long descent back to Mink Creek I was very surprised that Justin, Kiefer and the rest of the field had not stormed past me yet.  With Scout Peak towering off in the distance and the mid day sun beating down I was nervous about that final loop. I kept waiting and waiting for the steep climbs to begin but they never came.  The climb up Scout was flat and relatively easy in my opinion.  At the 8,500+ ft summit you simply slide down snow packs and race back down the mountain through never ending switchbacks.  I underestimated how long it would take me to get down Scout and to the Big Fur aid station (mile 47).  My pack ran dry and I was at serious risk of bonking.  I swore I could hear voices at every switchback but the aid station never came.  Eventually I spilled out at the aid station and was surprised we only had 4 miles to the finish. 

For the first time all day I felt energized and was racing!  Somewhere on the ascent and descent of Scout my hamstrings loosened up and I was flying.  Most of those last 4 miles were clicking off at 6 min pace.  On the homestretch back to the finish line I started pushing 5:30 pace and my hamstrings seized up.  So much for racing.  I slowed her down and strolled in with a finish time of 8 hrs and 15 min.  Not bad for how tight my hamstrings were and the 15 min detour at the top of Knife's ridge.  Mike finished in an incredible 7 hrs  and 43 min! Justin and Keifer rounded out the top 4 Missoula sweep with finishing times of 8hrs 49min.

Despite the effort I am not satisfied with what unfolded. I am grateful for the opportunity to race the Pocatello 50 which had been on my radar for quite some time.  It was great to finally get off the interstate and run the trails of Pocatello.  The course was even more beautiful than I had imagined.  The flowers were in bloom and the views from the summits were incredible - endless peaks in all directions.  I look forward to coming back to the Pocatello 50 and being better prepared.  Now it is time for 100 mile training to begin!

Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.