Saturday, December 3, 2011

Race Recap

We did it! Well we did it back in August and I'm writing this recap in December. I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to it. TransRockies was an amazing experience. Mark and I had some amazing highs and a few lows.  Rather than recount each day in detail and bore you, our millions of fans, I'll just summarize my perspective of the week running the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

First off, Mark and I were not alone. 20 to 25 runners from Flagstaff entered this amazing race, including the ultimate winners of the race, our coach Mike Smith and his partner Jason Wolf. We traveled up to Buena Vista, the start of the race, with a full carload of fellow Flagstaffians. It was a great start to a week of hanging out with friends and making new ones.

Mark and I were both feeling great the night before the start. A little nervy, but that's to be expected. We went out for a little shake-out run and all was good. It was exciting to get to the start the next morning, not entirely what to expect for the week. There were a lot of smiles at the start and a lot of excitement for what we were all about to embark on. Mark and I started off great and were on pace for our goal for this first 20 mile segment of the race. And then it hit. About halfway through the first stage, Mark started feeling it. I'll let him describe his experience, but it seemed kind of like a GI and upper GI problem. It forced him to have to start taking walk breaks. He kept at it though, pushing through the pain and nausea. I was still hopeful that he'd work through it, but as we neared the finish and Mark was getting worse, not better, I started to realize how significant his problem was. Crossing the finish was anti-climactic and not what I dreamt it would be. Mark was in bad condition. I was immediately concerned for him as I hung out in the medical tent. Later that afternoon, I also started to selfishly worry about my race. That conflict between genuine concern for Mark and selfish concern for my own race stayed with me throughout the remainder of the week.

It was difficult for me to settle in at camp that first night, not really certain how things were going to turn out. I was feeling good and anxious to get running and test out my training. Mark was determined to continue, but he wasn't looking good. The 2nd stage of the race was a short one, but a difficult one. We walked just about the whole thing, a little over 13 miles. It was tortuous for me by the end and I'm sure for Mark too. He wasn't feeling good.  Much of the stage was on beautiful trail, but I found my mind often wondering what would happen tomorrow. I think Mark was wondering the same thing as we began the discussion - do I go on without him. I knew I wouldn't leave Mark if we started together. So we discussed how stage 3 would go. I wasn't prepared to walk that one, 24+ miles and I'm sure it was hard for Mark to be keeping me back.

Camp life began to pick up for me. I started getting into the routine of eating, massage, hanging out with friends. The community dinner was often a lot of fun, and it culminated in an awards ceremony and a slideshow for the day. Many of our fellow Flagstaffians had podium finishes and it was great to support them and enjoy their success.

Mark and I had a plan for stage 3 so I started worrying less about my race, though continued concern for him. Mark still wasn't doing well. He seemed to be generally fine at rest, but the effort of racing taxed his system. He was struggling to figure out what was going on and I can't imagine his frustration. We decided that we would start the stage together, along with another Flagstaff team who had a similar situation. The four of us ran together as we left Leadville for about 3 miles. As the course headed uphill, Mark and one of the other runners started feeling it. That left me running with Bob, the other teammate who was feeling good. Bob and I thought about waiting at the top of the climb for our partners, but ultimately decided that we all pre-planned to switch partners if needed, and that's what we did. Bob and I then took off down a descent and I felt like we were flying. Bob's a stronger runner than me, and he lead us on a fast paced run through the trees. I whooped and hollered and must have been smiling ear to ear. I was running! Stage 3 was awesome. It was a beautiful run, but a long one, over 24 miles. I felt great though. The last couple of miles was a grind to the finish, but we came in at just over 4 hours, good enough for fourth place. It was a good day for me as I finally got to test out my training. Unfortunately, as I would learn later, Mark continued to have trouble. He walked much of the course with the switched partner and it sounded like he was not sure whether he could continue the race.

That afternoon at camp, I ate a lot, took a dip in the lake, hung out with friends, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere. The nightly dinners, awards, and slideshow was a blast. Mark decided to give the camp doctor one more shot, and he insisted on getting fluids by IV. He was in the medical camper for a while, but when he came out, he seemed like a new man. Mark was going to give it one more shot, and if it didn't work out so be it. The next morning, we started the stage together along with our fellow struggling teammates. It became quickly apparent that Mark was feeling differently today. He felt like his usual self. It was an amazing feeling as we climbed the first half of the stage to an amazing view of the Presidential Mountains. We were practically in tears as we celebrated finally running together as a team. Mark was elated. This was the first time he felt like himself since the first part of Stage 1. We cruised through a mile of water near the end of the stage and onto the finish. It was our first finish together where we truly felt the satisfaction of our effort. What a great day.

Stage 5 started off a little rough for me, and for basically the first time, Mark was carrying me through those first 8 miles of climbing. By the time we got to some single track I was starting to improve. We started running great as a team, just as we have all through training. We had another great day and were happy to finally reach the finish in Vail. And then there was Stage 6, the final day. By this time, we didn't think too much about feeling bad. We just ran. It was liberating. Stage 6 was by far the most challenging stage. It was a mix of technical terrain, steep climbs, and distance. It was perhaps the most challenging day I've ever raced. But off we went. We had just a good, steady pace early in the stage. About 10 miles in we started passing quite a few teams. Soon enough we found ourselves passing the third place team. Are we really in third place right now? It was so incredibly exciting, but it also made me worry about losing it. I pushed the pace a bit and Mark was awesome at staying with me. The stage was becoming a complete grind as we approached the 20 mile mark. Up in the distance, though, we spotted the 2nd place team, and they were hurting. Mark and I passed them, but we weren't feeling so great either. This challenging stage was starting to take its toll. But we persevered. After the most horrific climb I've experienced, we finally crested into Beaver Creek ski area. As we started the descent, a couple of miles to the finish, we knew we were in 2nd place. So down we ran.

We could see the finish line and as we neared, we started to hear the announcer. He barked out our names and then I heard him say we were in second. While I knew it already, when I heard it over the PA system it made it seem so real. Mark and I both got so extremely excited. It truly was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced. As we ran for the finish we were jumping and pumping our fists with so much joy. It was such a great finish to such an emotional week. To finish 2nd after this tough week was an amazing accomplishment. Randi was waiting at the finish and it was so great to share this experience with her. Mike Smith was there too and he was so extremely excited for us. What a great day.

The Finish!

We Did It!

Go Flagstaff!

Later that night, at the daily dinner, awards ceremony, and slideshow, Mark and I finally had our due. How sweet it is!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

This Is It!

Well the training is over, last easy 6 mile run today with lots of friends and fellow Transrockies runners.  A bunch of us are loading into the Yukon tomorrow for the drive to Durango where we will stay, have a nice dinner, and then continue on to Buena Vista and the start of Transrockies 2011.

On December 4, 2010, I couldn't have guessed I would be where I am today.  With over 1700 miles, 230+ runs, and 175,000 feet of climbing, I have run crazy runs, including multiple Grand Canyon runs, even in the middle of the night, 3 days of back to back running at 11,500 in the majestic San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and a ridiculous 27 mile adventure smack dab in the middle of all of this.

There have been days of worrying about my body, weird aches and pains that would come and go.  Wondering who I would run with on a particular day, and even at times wondering why I was even doing this at all.

My family has been awesome during all of this as I got up and ran early almost every day during the kids summer break.  This journey has been selfish but rewarding.  Im not sure what I am going to do when the race is over, but its hard to just let it go when you have been living a lifestyle day after day for over 8 months.

The best part about this journey is the number of quality runners and friends that I have met during my training.  Flagstaff has a ridiculous amount of talented runners and being able to run with them, have a beer, and just enjoy hanging out has been incredible.

My coach Mike Smith who is also running TRR has been unbelievable.  There is not a nicer, more positive person that I would want to be involved with in this process.  When I was feeling good, he was pumping me up even more, when I was feeling down, he knew just what to say to help turn things around.

My wife Jen has been on countless training runs with me as she rides the bike and we get to spend time chatting.  She is going to be there all week volunteering at the finish line.  It will be great to see a smiling face at the end of each stage, not only for me but all the Flagstaff runners that will also be there.

My partner Joel and I are probably more compatible than any team that I have seen.  Our fitness, speed, style, and humor are all similar which will make for an epic adventure.

I have had crazy nerves the last couple of days but as Mike and Erin have told me, just "go out for a run for 6 days.  Its no different than the last 230 days you have been running".  I am more than prepared, I am not intimidated.

What more can you ask for than a fully supported camping trip with 20 of your closest friends that will be there when you are down, and also to celebrate when everything is good.

The training journey is over but the reward is about to begin.


Friday, August 12, 2011

One Week To Go!

Have we really made it to the taper? Oh man, it feels so good to be at this point and injury-free! Mark and I have done it all, back to back to back long runs, steep ascents, steep descents, speed work, long miles.... we've run the Grand Canyon, a 30K in Malibu, some early miles in beautiful Sedona, miles and miles and miles of awesome trail around Flagstaff, and, recently, consecutive long runs above 11,000 feet around Silverton, CO. There really isn't anything we missed in our training. We're definitely coming to Trans Rockies as prepared as two middle-aged, middle packers can be. And we're healthy! No nagging injuries and no gaps in our training since the serious stuff began in late May, early June.

For our last high mileage week (80 freaking miles!) of training, Mark was really pushing for a road trip to Colorado so we could spend more time at higher altitude. While I was hesitant at first, I'm glad we made the trip. It was awesome. I felt like I was running just to run; and I took in everything, the wildflowers, the views, the trail. I think I've gotten to a point where running for hours just seems natural.

Heading back down to Ice Lake from Fuller Lake, @12,500'
Our first run was up to Ice Lake Basin. With over 5000 feet of climbing and access to several high alpine lakes, the run was incredible. Wildflowers were in abundance and we made the loop to check out Fuller, Ice, Island, and other unnamed lakes at over 12,500 feet.

View near the start of the Colorado Trail heading west from Molas Pass.
The next day we headed to Molas Pass where we hit the Colorado Trail for nearly 17 miles of running at about 11,500 feet. The elevation remained relatively constant, which was a delight after the steeps from the first day. It too was a beautiful trail. One I'd love to do again. Mountain vistas, waterfalls, and wildflowers gave this run something to focus on at every mile. I can't imagine it really gets any better than this portion of the Colorado Trail.

On the third run in Colorado and our final long run before Trans Rockies, Mark and I decided to try to soak in as much as we could by hitting two different trails that both started around Molas Pass. We first took the Colorado Trail east from the pass down to the start of some steep switchbacks. The view down the Animas River valley was spectacular from there. We then climbed back up to the pass and headed over to the Crater Lake Trail. Now, I've done the Crater Lake trail before as a backpack with my then 8-year-old son. So how hard could it be, right? Turns out that the run out to Crater Lake was a lot more difficult than I remembered. I found myself repeating at various times, "My 8-year-old did this?" The trail was a bit more technical than I remembered, and it climbed. It climbed a lot more than I remember. With the water on the trail, stream crossings, and rocky sections, the running was a challenge. But we made it to the lake, took in the view, and headed back. The run back was way easier as we made our descent to the trailhead. The mud didn't seem so muddy, the stream crossings were easier, and the rocky sections didn't seem so rocky. It was really just running with joy all the way back to where we started. This was it, these were the final miles of our "intensive" training for TR.

So now, here we are on our taper. I've got a trail half-marathon to run tomorrow and then nothing but easy miles until the start of TR on August 21st. The Colorado road trip was a great way to end the hard stuff and both Mark and I are absolutely certain that we're as ready as we can be for Trans Rockies.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Training Is The Hardest Part

A friend of ours who has run TransRockies several times said last year, "The training is the hardest part..." when Mark and I were considering this epic race. The training has been hard, but it's lead to some really epic runs and opportunities to hang out with some great people. This past weekend was epic with back to back to back long runs, starting off with our moonlight run in the Grand Canyon down to the river and back. Mark's post describing our adventure was spot on. It was an amazing run and one I'm not so sure I would have tackled had I not been training for TransRockies. Our third long run of the weekend was also quite memorable for me. It's difficult to describe the feeling you get when running on a great mountain trail early in the morning, but I have to say I was feeling pretty lucky to live where I live and have that opportunity. As the the completion of that third long run in a row was nearing, I remember thinking how amazed I was that Mark and I were able to complete the week and the three challenging runs with no more damage than just run-of-the-mill fatigue. Mike Smith has mentioned from time to time that we've got to throw out the conventional wisdom about training, and that we would be surprised at what our bodies could handle, I guess I needed to see it for myself to actually believe him.

This past week of training, ending with the three long runs, leaves Mark and I feeling pretty good about our preparation for the race. We have no false sense of being finish leaders, but we now know that we can finish, and that will be a big accomplishment. There are still 4 weeks left in training and I'm sure we have another weekend of long runs just ahead, but is the training the hardest part? I guess we'll know soon enough.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What a weekend!

Joel and I are now in the final stages of training, which is also the most difficult.
This past weekend we spent running 3 consecutive long runs.  In the Transrockies circle this is known as the back to back to back.

We started with a trip to the Grand Canyon for a midnight full moon run from the rim down the S. Kaibab trail to the Colorado River, and back.  The moon could not have been any brighter.  We started down the trail at 1230 without our headlamps on and with our packs full of water and GU.  The descent was not as fast as we had planned due to the lack of shadows and having to be very careful of our footing.  We stopped a few times to take in the view as you could see the entire canyon lit up by the moon.  We reached the river at 215 am, refilled our water, and fueled up.  Temps were good, probably in the high 40s on the rim and close to 70 at the river.  Now the hard part begins.  Up we go.  I find it easiest to break the trail up into 4 sections.  The river to the Tipoff, the Tipoff to Skeleton Pt, Skeleton Pt to Cedar Ridge, and Cedar Ridge to the rim.  Each section has its fairly difficult ascents, especially from the river to the Tipoff and the brutal switchbacks, just before you get to Skeleton Pt.  We ascended slowly but steadily, running everything that was runnable.  As we neared the rim the first mule train was coming down so we took a refreshing break to let them pass before moving on.  Just as we reached the last set of switchbacks before the rim, the first hikers bus had arrived and a steady stream of headlamps came at us like Christmas lights.  At this point daylight was coming quickly.  We arrived at the rim at 445 am, jumped into Joel's van, and slept for a couple of hours.  Ahhh that sleeping bag felt good.  What a great start to a difficult weekend.

Day 2 we decided to let off of the hills and just go for a long run on the forest roads.  I knew this would be the toughest day for me as running 20 miles on a flat road would be more mentally taxing then physical.  Starting from Joel's house we proceeded out to the forest, starting on forest road 518, this was a gradual uphill for the first 8 miles or so.  Luckily there was cloud cover that kept it cool.  We passed a few places in the forest that a tornado had ripped through last fall.  It looked like someone had taken a huge lawn mower and cut the trees off about 15 feet from the ground.  Crazy the destruction.  We proceeded to forest road 171, then 222, and back to Joel's house.  Coming in at 20 miles and just over 3 hours, it was a relief to get this run out of the way and have plenty of time to recover for the final day.

Day 3 we met at the bottom of Snowbowl Road, where we would shuttle to the starting point of the Weatherford trailhead.  Another morning of cloud cover and everything was still wet from the rain the night before.  Heading up the Weatherford the first 1.5 miles or so is just a continuous grind, climbing 700+ feet.  My legs were on fire and the lungs were working overtime.  We help on though and were able to make it to the Kachina trail junction on the run.  Feeling good about this considering we had already run 35+ miles and climbed over 6500 feet the previous 2 days.  About a mile up the Kachina trail I was feeling my first stomach issue of the long training.  This would be something to work through considering we still had 14 miles to run and the possibility of this is great in the race.  Focusing on an awesome run across the Kachina trail through wet ferns, and lush forest, I kept concentrating on the run and not what was going on with my stomach.  We saw a herd of elk and a few deer along the way.  We arrived at the Snowbowl ski area about 1.5 hours into the run.  Knowing it was downhill back to the truck was a relief.  We were now going to explore the new Arizona trail.  Descending from Snowbowl, we ran through meadows, passing the protesters camped out, who are opposed to snowmaking.  We proceeded on the Arizona trail south, the new trail is amazing, smooth, and a fairly gradual descent.  We arrived at the small section of the trail that was not finished and proceeded to go cross country, following the marking flags of where the trail will be.  After about .75 miles we arrived at the other end of the trail which was also in primo condition.  Down we went through the forest.  We opened up at about 7800 feet, where the sun was out and it was getting warm.  We were making good time, and still running solid.  We arrived back at the truck in just under 3 hours.  No worse for the wear but still mentally and physically fatigued.

We accomplished a weekend where we would become better team mates and friends, working together to push forward, and overcome adversity when things got tough.  Our communication is great, and out team work is getting even better.  I feel that we are very close in our understanding of our abilities and where we will be in this race.  Our totals for the week were 51+ miles, 10.5 hours on feet, and over 8500+ feet of elevation gain.  This week focuses on turnover, and then one more very difficult week of training before tapering.  We are ready now but will be even more ready when race time comes.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In The Thick Of It

Mark and I are in the middle of the toughest part of our training at this point. All the miles we've put in over the last several months are really paying off now, so we can focus on the key workouts. I ran nearly 70 miles last week and this week looks to be a bit more. A typical week consists of one interval workout, usually with hills, and two or three days of long runs. In between those are easy miles, just to keep the legs going. Today Mike tortured us on the dreadmill with hill repeats at 13 and 15 percent grade. I hate the treadmill, but I think it allows for consistency in elevation gain and in pace, which offers a quick measure of where we're at physically.

Overall, things are going very well. I ran the Kona Marathon a couple of weeks ago as a training run and was able to keep extremely even splits over the 26 miles. It's a very hot and humid race and my goal was mainly to feel good at the end. I really hadn't trained to race it. I finished in 3:45 and was happy with my performance. Even better, I was able to start running two days later and even finished a 23 mile long run with significant elevation gain just a week after the race. It really has amazed me what I can get my body to do. I never thought I was capable of running this much over such challenging terrain, but I think the fact that I started months ago and just kept slowly increasing the effort has allowed me to get where I'm at.

Not surprisingly, my body has been more tired recently and I'm becoming more aware of the importance of rest and nutrition. I've been able to squeeze in a few naps occasionally, but I'm probably not getting enough sleep overall. I'm not a big eater either, but I'm burning a shitload of calories. So I have to also get better at refueling properly. Randi, my wife, has been so supportive through all of this, but this month the burden on her has really increased now that I'm on the trail many more hours or having to spend time resting. I couldn't do this without her.


Monday, July 4, 2011

And that's a stage

Joel and I embarked on a long run yesterday that will resemble one of the 3 longer stages of TR.  It began with a few sprinkles in the morning, we were hoping to avoid any severe storms while exposed as they were forecast.  We started a loop that would in the end be 23 miles and close to 5 hours of running.  Starting at the Schultz Tank trailhead at 8000 feet, then up the Weatherford trail to Doyle Saddle at 10800.  We continued up to the top near Humphreys Peak, topping out at 12012 feet and just under 10 miles before descending the next 13 miles back to start.

We encountered a lot of traffic on the Humphreys trail with the holiday weekend in full force.  We ended up making a pit stop at Snowbowl's Agassiz lodge to refill our water.  Once we were hydrated we motored down the Kachina trail which was a long homestretch back to start.  Refueling at the car with a recovery drink and thinking about the day, we realized we are ready for this 6 day adventure and just need to fine tune a few things.

Things stay on the crazy side this week with long back to back runs this weekend and a hill workout on Wednesday.  Only 6 more weeks and the race is on.