ultra running

Hancock Peak Trail

Hancock Peak trail
I spent Memorial day weekend at Duck Creek Utah.  That gave me the opportunity to do the Hancock Peak trail.   Maps show the trail to be about 7 miles at 9,600-10,100 feet altitude.

I couldn’t find much on the trail so here are some points if you are looking to do it:

• There is no trail.  You have to travel between cairns and cut trees.  It wasn’t that hard, but I frequently (most of the time) was off trail.  Patience is required when you have to figure out which way the trail went.

• The cairns are big and frequent, however sometimes they are not where I expected.  And sometimes they are under snow. 😐

• Looking for signs of a trail in a lava field is hard.

• A map is helpful.  In addition to a printed map, I used the off-line mode of google maps to help orient my position.

• No one else was on the trail.  Perhaps it gets busier later in the season.

• My map says this is a bike trail.  Be sure to ask the rangers if trail maintenance was done if you plan on biking.  There was a lot of downed trees on the trail.

• I’m not experienced in forest trail finding.  I had to work at finding the trail, especially in the snowy areas.

• There wasn’t any crazy dangers on this trail.  You still need to be careful, you could break a leg in the lava fields, get lost in the forest, not really any cell service, and don’t expect to see anyone else on the trail

• The round trip took me 7 1/2 hours and 17+ miles.  I’m sure you can go faster when there is less snow and more of the fallen trees cleared away.

It was a fun hike and I enjoyed trying to find my way through the trail.  The ancient lava flows were kinda interesting.  But the scenery wasn’t that exciting.

Low Carb

I had a follow up appointment with my Doctor to discuss my blood work.  He suggested I try a low/no carb diet.  I smiled and then went to REI to pick up my gels for my upcoming race — How many carbs can there be in a gel anyway  🙂

A lot of gels

He’s probably right, but not going to switch right before a race.

ATA Colossal Vail 50/50 Nov 14 2015

I registered for the ATA Colossal Vail 50/50.  This will be my 3rd attempt at 50 miles.

The first time I tried the 50 mile distance I had a naive nervous confidence that I could handle the distance.  Then I DNFd at 40 miles.

The second time I was determined, I had the training down and even had a successful 50k training run.  I had to downgrade to the Marathon distance.

This time its different.  After 2 unsuccessful attempts– the distance is way more intimidating.  I’m healthy, training is going great, but can I figure out how to make it through the inevitable dark places?  Can I get my nutrition and hydration right and if not, can I recover?

The course sounds interesting and I’ll get to run in the dark — assuming all goes well and I don’t DNF.  That will be interesting.  Running in the dark sounds cool but I have a hard time remembering things when I’m at an aid station.  It would be very disappointing to forget to grab my lights from my drop bag.

It always is cool to have a race on the calendar.  It raises the intensity of training and it puts a major goal on the horizon.

E

Labor of Love 50 Miler (ok, maybe just a Marathon)

Labor of Love 50Mile (Or maybe Marathon) Race Report

Just before LOL 2015 Race Start

Just before LOL 2015 Race Start

Saturday was my second attempt at 50 Miles. I had my strategy down, had my training down…

Joyce with Calico Racing always puts on well organized events.  She knows many of her runners by name.  Aid stations were every 2 miles or so and nicely stocked for a road race (though maybe a bit sparse if you are used to ultra aid stations).

The course is a road course about an hour from home.  The starting line is around 4,500 feet, about 2,000 feet higher than Vegas.  Not that much elevation but I need to set up my excuses for race performance  :-).

Starting temp around 60-70 with a high in the low 80s.  Not particularly hot for me but hotter than it has been  (More set up for excuses).

The course is an 11 mile out and back with some repeat sections to get to the magic 26.2, 50k, or 50 Mile depending on the race.   Its about a 5-6 mile rise, then a steap descent (for a road race) for 3 miles and then more climbing.  The marathon has about 2,000 feet of climbing (4,000 overall for the 50 mile course).

Asthetically the course is nice, scrubby desert ‘forest’.  The landscape doesn’t change much but the road has enough bends in it that the terrain doesn’t get monotonous.

LOL 2015

Ok, back to the race.  The race had about 250+ runners.  80 toed the start line for the Marathon and beyond distance (13 of those were 50 milers).

I set a very slow 14 minute/mile goal pace, which would give me plenty of lee way for the 15 minute/mile cut off.  Did a decent job of keeping my pace down, I was running 12-13 minute pace and on the uphill section to boot but I kept my pace down.  Yay!

The 5-6 mile climb was ok, it wasn’t that steep but it was never ending.  My legs didn’t feel as fresh as they should have been.  The climb was slowly doing its thing to me and then the Sun started to do its thing to me as well.  Not much mind you, just slowly and relentlessly trying to stop my forward motion.

Did the extra lap at the top of the course and was able to figure out that there were 2 50 milers behind me at the 13 mile mark.  I was a little more tired than I wanted to be, but this was the start of the downhill section and I had time in the bank so I should be able to recover.

But around mile 18 was the big climb (the descent on the way up the canyon).  I mostly walked up the climb, but even that was too intense for what was going on in my stomach.  By the time I crested the hill my ‘health’ was fading.

This is a picture of the descent.  You can see the road off to the left of the picture

This is a picture of the descent. You can see the road off to the left.

I made it to the mile 23 aid station and was able to sit down for a bit.  Despite nausea, I knew I could complete at least marathon distance and so trudged on.  That was not a fun 3.2 miles but I did it.  I crossed the mat and downgraded to a marathon.

I then went over to the ultra aid station to get a soda and was told that they were trying to save the soda for the ultra runners.  Ouch.  I knew I should have gone to the aid station before downgrading.  🙂

So What went wrong?

I expected problems going into the race.  About a month before the race I did a 50k training run with no problems.  But a little more than a week before the race I ran into nausea problems doing a 20 mile run.  The difference is tempature.

During the winter I can run 10+ miles without water but during the summer it takes me 60-80 ounces of water to cover the same distance.  Over the past 2 weeks tempatures have climbed but I’m not acclimated to it yet.

My theory is I was taking in more liquids than my body could handle.  When I added the last climb to the heat, higher elevation, and the miles my stomach finally rebelled.

Oh, and of the 13 or so starters, there were only 7 50 mile finishers so I wasn’t the only one who downwgraded to a shorter distance.

E

Labor of Love 50 Mile

I mailed off my entry today to Calico Racing’s Labor of Love 50 Mile race!  This will be my second attempt at 50 miles.

Labor of Love 50 Mile

I’ve run this course as a half-marathon before.  I was recovering from a torn calf muscle (ouch) and so I dropped from a marathon down to a half.  If you ever want to ‘podium’ in a race, sign up for a medium-short distance in a primarily ultra event.  I believe I finished 3rd in my age group but the field was really small since the focus was on the ultra-distances.

Whatever, this is a nice course and hopefully the weather will cooperate.  I think I have my pace down and I think I know some of the reason for knee injuries.  The biggest concern is going to be nutrition.  Hopefully even if my nutrition is messed up, I’ll be able to recognize the problem for what it is and tough it out.

E

Las Vegas 100

So I’m thinking of running a 100k race in October – Las Vegas 100. I know, I DNFd doing a 50 Mile. However the race falls during a good time and they don’t have a 50 mile option.

First the course. It is a loop course in a park. When I first started thinking about Ultras, loop courses seemed boring. Perhaps loops are boring, but after running a 50 mile race I see a lot of advantages. The race advertises that the loops are 10, 7, and 5 miles long depending on the loop. But really, the loops are zig zaggy in the same desert lot so it really is 100k of mostly the same scenery over and over again.

So what are the advantages?

* There aren’t many Ultra races within 5 miles of my house. I can do this race with the only expense being the race entry fee and supplies.

* I saw how much work it is for my race crew (AKA Wife). In a point to point 50 mile race it is a long day for the crew, especially when she isn’t into racing. With a loop course, the aid station is always in the same place.

* The course is at a park. While I’ll be mostly running in the desert, the park is large, grassy, and has duck ponds (and other animals). My extended crew can picnic and play at the park.

* After awhile, the scenery doesn’t matter (I hope). It’s me versus the race.

* Loops = more people to talk to? In my last race, as the field spread apart, there wasn’t anyone around.

How am I going to avoid 2 DNFs in a row?

* Pace Pace Pace.  I’ve taken to wearing a heart rate monitor again.  I’m going to try and keep my heart rate down below 160.  Probably in the 140s.  Still trying to figure it out.  Regardless, the HRM will keep me dialed back.

* I’ve been running with a light total knee compression wrap.  It seems to be working.  It also helps to remind me from time to time to work on running mechanics.

* Caffeine!  Not sure how I’m going to do it yet, but hopefully caffeine will keep me perked up at the end.

* Training.  I’m trying to get my weekly mileage up to 50 miles and I’m more serious about the training.

Now I just have to find a pacer.

Ed

Rainier To Ruston 50 Mile 2014

R2R Race Report

Rainier to Ruston 50M was my first attempt at 50 Miles.  The course was a downhill point to point course with about 20 miles of trail and about 30 miles of paved trail. This is a very fun course with the whole distance being very runnable.

Just before the start

The start of the race was a bit disorganized, not bad, but a little crazier than I’m used to.  Driving to the starting line, we nearly turned around before we got to the start due to lack of signage.   Much of the confusion is understandable. I’m used to races set in rural areas or mountain trails in the middle of nowhere.  Those RDs mark the course during the week and get everything set up the day or night before.  This race was on a heavily used urban trail and ran through city parks.  The RD must go crazy trying to get a 50 mile course up in time for us.

My ‘plan’ was a 12 minute mile pace for a 10 hour finish.  Figured I might drag at the end but still be able to make 12 hours.  We were off and quickly I ran into my first strategic error (second if you count the goal pace).  Turns out there are trees in Washington.  I’m used to running in the desert southwest where I can always see the sky.  My Garmin lost signal under the canopy of trees — so my primary tool to rein me in during the start of the race wasn’t very useful.  Without the feedback of the watch, and with the wave still tightly packed, I probably was running 9-10 minute miles.

The first 3 legs of the course are primarily trail.  Some of the relay runners were nervous about the ‘secluded wilderness’ advertised on the website but these are the best legs! (Assuming it hasn’t been raining) This was a very pretty trail that you could actually run on.  Some roots are there to try and place you in the dirt but I was able to get through unscathed.  There were a few muddy sections to scramble around but it was a dry year for the course so it wasn’t too bad.  This section could be very challenging in a wet year.

2014-06-07 08.29.06

After the trail sections, the course moves onto a nice and active urban trail.  From this point on it was like running a ‘supported’ run out in the community.

2014-06-07 09.17.31 2014-06-07 10.09.51 2014-06-07 10.55.20

Navigating the course was easy; although I spotted some runners heading off in the wrong direction in 2 spots so you can get lost if you try.  Some of the city portions can get a bit sketchy – especially if your pace starts falling off.   I was cheered on by some homeless guys later in the race as I ran under a freeway overpass.

2014-06-07 14.42.59

I really enjoyed the course, but I struggled the whole way with my pace.  It didn’t help that my left knee was killing me.  By about mile 39 I lost the desire to go on.  It was a combination of exhaustion and nausea that probably finished me – though I didn’t realize how much the exhaustion hit me until 2 days later when I noticed I had 2 black eyes.  I kept on going until about mile 41, search and rescue was stationed there and my wife and her friend also had walked down the trail to that point to cheer me on.

I sat and talked for a half hour trying to rally but that wasn’t happening.  I ended up DNF’ing at 41 miles and 11 ½ hours or so.

Perhaps with more experience I could have rallied and gone on.  I didn’t notice the nausea.  I’ve been nauseas on runs before but this felt different.  I just didn’t feel good.   While I was being driven to my car I fixed my nausea problem  :-).   My pace had dropped off to somewhere around 20-25 minute/mile pace but perhaps with caffeine and an understanding that I was going to take 12-14 hours and not 10-12 hours to finish I could have combatted the fatigue.

But those are all …could have dones… They didn’t start to hit until a week after the race.  I was pleased with the distance I went.  I am starting to plan my next 50+ mile attempt.

Key Learnings:

  • I figured the ‘easier course’ would compensate for the longer distance.  I had run several 50Ks, but they were intense courses.  -Nope – Miles is different than intensity.
  • Pace.  Argggh. –Maybe I should have spent more time ‘resting’ at the early aid stations.  That would have helped me get away from the pack that I was running with.
  • My left leg – Grr.  I wore an IT strap above my knee.  I think it worked – or rather it hurt worse when I tried to run without it on.
  • Hammer Anti-Fatigue caps seem to work.  When my legs got sore, taking one of those eased the pain.
  • Around mile 20-30 my shoes felt like they were a half size too small.   Not sure if that’s just my mind finding something else to worry about.
  • I’ve never had problems with socks before.  But after a while my socks felt a little like sand paper.  I even changed socks at mile 20.  My feet were fine after the race so maybe it was all in my head but it will give me a reason to buy more running gear.
  • Caffeine!  10+ hours running – I need to add caffeine to my nutrition about 8-10 hours into the course.

Aside from the DNF, I had fun on my run.  I need to figure out my stupid left leg and make some other changes to my strategy and try again.

Running in the Heat

Running in the heat

 

I run all the time during the summer.  For a ‘bread and butter’ run I’ll just wake up early.  But I love to run when its crazy hot out.  Probably for the same reason why I run far.  I do it because its hard.

When I started running I listened to podcasts and read articles on running.  I don’t know, but I think that every article on running is written by people that live in locations where a hot day is 75 degrees.

Here in Vegas, the average LOW temperature in July is 81.  But it’s a dry heat right?  That might be one of the silliest thing anyone can possibly say.  I’m sure running in high humidity is not fun, but when you go out running in 105 degree weather and 5-10% humidity, the sun just fries you to a crisp.  If you run on asphalt, you can feel the heat coming up through your shoes (Don’t try that barefoot running thing on asphalt during the summer in Vegas!)

High heat is extremely dangerous.  It seems every year there is some poor soul who dies on a trail only a mile from the trailhead.  It seems so ridiculous and it could never happen to you.  WRONG.  You may be a strong runner.  You may even be used to the desert.  Running in the heat can kill you if you don’t take precautions.  High heat is oppressive and it smells weakness.  As soon as it beats you down there is no getting back.

These are 2 articles from 2013 that all occurred in the Vegas area to hikers:

Scout Leader Death

Gold Strike Canyon Death

 

Rule #1 You don’t have enough water.

The amount of water you need seems to grow exponentially.  When it’s 60-70 degrees out I can do 10 miles without water.  I won’t be happy, but 10 miles with no support is no big deal.  When it gets hot, that same run will take 40-80 ounces of water to keep me going.  And I’ll be very thirsty the rest of the day.

It is very important to consider resupply. What if something happens during the run?  What if the you can’t sustain the run?  That quantity of water isn’t a convenience, it is a requirement.  If you walk or get sick you will need more water.  How are you going to obtain it?

Seriously, you need to carry more water.

 

Rule #2  Sunlight is Heavy

This sounds funny but it’s true.  The heat is oppressive, it’s hard to describe the feel, but it’s as if you are carrying an additional 5-20 pounds or more with you on the run.  It’s not like cold or wind or other inclement conditions, heat is it’s own inclement weather with its own challenges.  The heat and the glare weigh you down.  If there is no breeze, the oxygen in the air feels wrong.  If there is a breeze, it feels like a convection oven.  It cooks you faster.

You will fatigue faster than you think.  How are you going to get back to the start?  The combination of fatigue and lack of water is why people die only a short distance from safety.  You must be careful.  EVERYONE can handle 1 mile of outdoors and yet people can still die less than 1 mile from safety.

 

Rule #3  Every exposed piece of skin will burn in less than 30 minutes

I tan well.  But desert running requires protection.  I will burn fast without protection when I run during the day.  Sunburns hurt.  Wear a hat.  My hair used to do a better job protecting my head, but not so much anymore.

 

Some other things to consider

#  Water gets hot

A nice cold drink of water sounds so refreshing on a long run during the summer.  However, your water will quickly approach the ambient air temperature. 100 degree water works, but it isn’t very enjoyable.

I sometimes use Hammer Perpetuem.  It’s a creamy electrolyte drink.   On a 100 degree run it turns into a warm slimey slightly curdled? milk drink–Yummy.  It probably isn’t that bad, but heat changes what sounds good.  When I’m 90 minutes into a run, hot Perpetum sounds as good as spoiled milk on the run.  Be sure your nutrition plan makes sense when you are over heating.

# Municipal water sources in the desert taste bad.

If you are running in an urban area you might be counting on drinking fountains to resupply.  The desert southwest US has extremely hard water.  Its perfectly fine to drink but it doesn’t taste good, even less so when it is warm.  Oh, and the water from a drinking fountain will be nearly scalding hot for about 15 seconds.  Let the fountain run a bit and “cooler” water will show up.

# Don’t count on drinking fountains

You know about Murphy’s law right?  If you have plenty of water, all the drinking fountains will work.  But if you don’t have enough water, they will be turned off.  Even if they do work, maybe only a dribble comes out, not enough to refill a bottle.

This can be a real problem in my area late in the summer season/early fall.  “They” like to shut off the fountains so that pipes don’t freeze.  Never mind that it’s still 90 out during the day.  There must be some crazy maintenance calendar that “they” like to follow regardless of common sense.

I do resupply out of drinking fountains from time to time, but the water tastes bad and occasionally I run into problems.  Just be careful.

 

Running in extreme temperatures is a great challenge, but you need to be serious about it.  Think about what you are doing and have a plan.

 

e

 

Zion 100 2014 (50k)

Zion 100 (50k) 2014 The Zion 100 (50k) was my 3rd 50k Race.  The 50k had a Saturday 6am (Mountain) starting time – or from my perspective a 5am (Pacific) starting time.

I drove up from Vegas on Friday and stayed about 30 minutes away in St George.  After tossing and turning for a bit I was able to get to sleep – something I always find tough to do before a big race.  I was startled awake from an alarm in my room — race time?  The alarm fully woke me up, I had a tight schedule if I was to make it to the starting line in time after my alarm went off.  Turns out the power went out in the hotel, which set the smoke alarm warning off – 2 AM.  Argh.  So after calming down I laid back down only to have the power come back on, which set the smoke alarm off again.   Oh well, who needs sleep?

This was my first race that actually started in the dark so I got to run with a flash light which added extra fun to the race.  Race day weather was perfect, High 40s-low 50s at the start and maybe barely touching 70 later in the day.  The 50k race included two primary trails – Guacamole and Flying Monkey. The race started through the small town park and into the neighborhood.  I kinda wonder what the people of Virgin think of these early AM events that run through their town – there’s gotta be a lot of them with all of the trail heads in the area.

The first 9-10 miles of the course had us heading into runners completing the 100 Mile race.  I’ve never experienced the end of a 100 mile race, I was expecting zombies.  A few of the 100 milers were just barely hanging on but most of them looked like they were having a blast!

There was a water crossing early on, wasn’t expecting that.  I was concerned about running 30 miles in wet socks.  Fortunately I had a change of socks in my drop bag at the Guacamole aid station.  Guacamole was rolling concrete.  Interesting terrain, but not very soft.  Glad I didn’t trip  :-).

When I got to the aid station I went to my drop bag, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to get out of the bag so I just dropped off my light and grabbed gels.  As I left the station I remembered what I needed: socks and a knee strap (the ‘concrete’ was killing my IT band).  Fortunately it was a loop so I’d be back in 9 miles.

I had read about the famous bean and cheese burritos served at the aid stations so I grab some on the way out.  They tasted good and were easy to eat on the run.  After I was half done with the food, I began to doubt the wisdom of running on refried beans.  But I didn’t want to toss a burrito on the ground so I threw caution to the wind and finished it. Surprisingly, I survived with no unanticipated emergencies.

The loop part was a crazy meandering ‘trail’ through this concrete-bouldery rock terrain.  At one point the course markers tricked me and I ended up running back the wrong way.  Many of the 100 milers did this portion in the dark and after running 80-90 miles — how in the world did they stay on course?  I couldn’t stay on course during the day.   The race director did mostly a good job getting the course marked, I can only imagine how much work it takes to mark 100+ miles of course, but a little more course markings on Guac would have been nice.  I ended up running about an extra mile up there and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

I got back to the aid station and went straight to my drop bag.  I couldn’t remember why I needed my drop bag so I just grabbed a few gels.  It wasn’t until I got back on the trail that I remembered what I needed from the bag — socks and knee strap – ack forgot twice.  Note: Gotta work on my drop bag strategy.

Next up was the flying monkey trail.  How can you not love a trail with a name like that.  Apparently monkeys were launched off of the top of the mesa to test ejection seats or something like that.  I was a bit concerned about this trail because there was a rope climbing section plus all of the mountain bike youtube videos made this trail seem pretty intense. The ascent turned out to be way easier than the ascents during the Mt Taylor 50k and the Leona Divide 50/50 trails, my two previous ultras.  However, this trail would be very unforgiving if you slipped.  You would fall a long ways down.

With my burning IT band, I had limited stability so I had to be a little extra cautious. I was a little concerned as I approached the rope climb.  27 ish miles of running, burning knees, and a steep mountain side — what possibly could go wrong?  Fortunately it was easy and fun.  The rest of the climb was uneventful and eventually I crested into a typical Southern Utah desert dirt road. One thing to keep in mind if you are considering this trail, the weather was perfect.  If it was hotter I’d have been short water on this section.  These rocks can bake and there is no shade. The rest of the trail was downhill.  Down the paved road that leads to the runway and then across the desert and back to the town park.

Finished in 6 hours 99 minutes :-).

The race had the best looking finisher medals of any race I’ve done – it is nice jewelry.

A little bit before the Guacamole Aid station.

A little bit before the Guacamole Aid station.

Sign indicates the start of the loop.  Was a bit confusing to figure out which way to go after you were finished.

Sign indicates the start of the Guacamole loop. Was a bit confusing to figure out which way to go after you were finished.

guac3
Runners climbing the Flying Monkey rope

Runners climbing the Flying Monkey rope

Looking down the trail

Looking down the trail