Thursday, February 19, 2009

Western States Memories

For this, the second addition of the Western States Synchroblog, I'm going to share with you the thing I love most about Western States: memories. I've only been there three times - 2004 pacing Ashley Idema (now Nordell), 2005 running, 2007 pacing Rod Bien - but I've definitely made many fond memories in those years. And thus, I will share some of my favorites with you.

#1: Without a doubt, pacing Ashley is my very favorite WS memory. Shortly after we left Foresthill, Ashley told me about some knee pain she had been having for quite a while. Going down Cal Street, it only got worse. So at Cal 1, I decided to put some ice on it...but how? I got a ziplock bag from the volunteers, filled it with ice, and duct taped it to her knee. Down we went to Cal 2, with Ashley's knee feeling a bit better. A quick ice and tape change and we were out of there. On the way to Cal 3, her other knee started bothering her, too. So, we left Cal 3 with a bag of ice duct taped to each knee. Sweet! The refilling of ice and re-duct taping continued all night at each aid station. When we reached Hwy 49, Ashley's parents were there to cheer. We hadn't seen them since Foresthill, so they had no idea about Ashley's knee situation. Her mom gave me the was awesome! What had I done to her little 24-year old girl?? Naturally, Ashley was getting pretty tired of the whole situation by now, too. I specifically remember when the sun was light enough again to see without headlamps. Going down to No Hands, I casually glanced at my watch to check the time, Ashley saw me and scowled "Stop looking at your watch! I don't care what time it is!!" Not only did Ashley finish her first 100, she even managed to earn one of those cool top-3 age group jackets. And she eventually forgave me for torturing her through the final 38 miles. Thanks for letting me tag along, Ash.

The next 9 memories are really in no particular order...

#2: Watching Scott and Dave duke it out in 2004. Seeing them come into and leave Michigan Bluff within a minute of each other was nothing short of epic. They had been hammering each other through the heat for 8 1/2 hours and they both left with The Eye of the Tiger. Scott would go on to break the course record while Dave would go on to run the fastest non-winning and rookie time in WS history.

#3: Upon finishing with Ashley in 2004, I saw my buddy Jeff Riley hanging out on the grass in the infield. He looked completely wasted, but also super stoked. I could tell he had pulled off a good one. So I guessed sub-21. He smiled a bit, then began telling me about his excellent 20:08! Thankfully he was sitting down when he said that because I was so excited that I tackled him. I knew Jeff was going to have an awesome race.

#4: Me "running" from Green Gate to Hwy 49 in 2005, a distance of 13.7 miles, in 5:09. Luckily I had my buddy Ian, a D3 Cross Country All American, pacing me because I knew I would be flying in that section. Seriously, I thought I was running.

#5: Getting passed in the last 10 miles of 2005 by Chip, Rooster, and Olga. Yeah, I was puking my guts out and having a horrible day, but I could tell the three of them were having epic days. It was cool to watch each of them go prancing by me en route to p.r.'s.

#6: Less than 20 minutes after my own 2005 finish, I was already in my sleeping bag on the infield and almost passed out. Within minutes off lying down, I heard shouts for Ed and I managed to open my eyes long enough to watch Ed Willson give everything he had to pull out an incredible 23:58:23.

#7: While waiting with the other 23:something finishers to receive my silver buckle, I heard the name Jon Sinclair, turned around, and immediately recognized him as he, too, waited for his silver buckle. For those not familiar, Jon was a world-class road distance runner in the 80s and 90s. He was a big fixture at my hometown race, Bloomsday, winning it in '83 (my first-ever running race) and again in '86, becoming Bloomsday's first male two-time champ. Anyway, Jon was basically my running hero while growing up. So, I just had to introduce myself. I did so by asking him what was harder: winning Bloomsday or finishing WS in sub-24. He was definitely caught a little off-guard by the question. After I introduced and explained myself, he didn't hesitate in answering sub-24 at Western States.

#8: Listening to Jon Ticer's story in 2005 about how he went down hard while running down to the river. His finger whacked something pretty hard and consequently, dislocated itself. Unfazed, Jon told Kevin Myers, his pacer, to jam it back into place for him. Kevin was able to put the finger back where it belonged, Jon got a little tape at the next aid station, and he went on to rock a stellar 18:03:17 for 6th place.

#9: Hal cruising in to Dusty Corners in 2007. He had his tunes on and was just rockin', but yet looked so silky smooth. He didn't have crew there, so I asked if he needed help. He just non-chalantly said "naw", refilled his bottles, grabbed some food, put his tunes back on, and cruised on out. He didn't seem to have a worry on his mind and he made it all seem so effortless. At that point, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Hal was going to win.

#10: Leaving Green Gate with Rod in 2007. Less than 100 meters after I had started my pacing duties, Rod said "hang on a minute, I gotta puke". Being a puker myself, I knew he didn't need any sympathy here, but rather just a minute to puke. So I gave him his minute, he puked, and off we went in search of a top-10 finish; not a word was spoken about said puke.

I definitely have many other fond Western States memories, but these are some of my favorites. What is yours?

To find out what my fellow geeky Western States Synchrobloggers love about Western States, check out their blogs:
Bryon Powell, read what Goat likes most about Western States.
Scott Dunlap, read why the king of running blogs thinks too much information about Western States makes it the ultimate conquest.
Andy Jones-Wilkins, read what Jizzle Wizzle loves about running Western States.
Craig Thornley, read what LB thinks of the Western States Family.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day... my two favorite Valentines!

And here they are kissing each other...should I be jealous?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Fastest Ultra in the West

SLUT runners were out in full-force; apparently I didn't get the uniform memo, though.

That's the tag line for the Jed Smith Ultra Classic, held in Gibson Ranch Park just outside of Sacramento. It definitely is fast, and with only 480' of vertical in the 50 miler, it is also flat. The course consists of a 3.31 mile loop that we 50 milers ran a little over 15 times. It's about 1/2 paved and 1/2 trail. I used to be of the opinion that these loop courses are obsurdly boring and that I would never run one. Well, I had my sights set on meeting the qualifying standard to be considered for the US 100km World Cup Team. To do that, I needed to run a sub-5:40 (that's 6:48 pace). To do that, I needed a flat and fast course. Jed met my criteria and happened to be the only localish race this Winter/Spring that fit in with my schedule. So I decided to make the 8-hour trek south with Fatboy, returning to run his second Jed (he won his other time there), and Chris was nice enough to join the fun to be crew-boy.

Fatboy tried to not get eaten by the uber-aggressive pre-race geese.

After my recent results at shorter races (marathon and less), I knew I had the leg speed. It's kinda crazy, but a 6:48 pace just didn't intimidate me. However, I hadn't run any really long runs (40+ milers) since July, so I knew going in that my limiting factor was possibly going to be my endurance. I just tried to tell myself that I definitely wasn't overtrained, so maybe the shorter, faster stuff I had been doing would get me to the start feeling rested and hold me over for 50 miles.
The long, gradual, paved opposed to the short, steep, dirt hill.

Todd Braje was there and he also had plans of qualifying for the team. I was hoping we would be able to run together for at least a couple of laps, but it wasn't to be. I tend to be a fairly conservative starter, while Todd went for it from the gun. After 5:30:50, Todd crossed the finish line completely worked. I wish I could have seen it. Congratulations, Todd - incredible performance. Enjoy Belgium.

As for my race, I eased into it, covering the first lap in a relaxed 22:40ish (I needed to average between 22:00 and 23:00 per lap), then slowly speeding up to low-22s for lap 2, and 21:50s for laps 3-6. I reached 20.5 miles in 2:15, very comfortable and very much in control. I reached half way in 2:46 and the marathon in 2:53. Cruising right on pace. Although I slowed a bit the next few miles, I took a gel (mainly fueling with Carbo Pro drink for calories), started feeling better, and even p.r.ed my 50k split in 3:32.

The uber-technical trail section; hey the arrow's pointing the wrong way.

At the beginning of lap 10, Chris told me I was doing awesome and he was getting reports from over the course that I looked great all around. Hm, perhaps the kiss of death? Somewhere in my 10th lap, things went bad. My lack of long runs was definitely catching up to me. I slowed waaaaaay down to 28:58. Lap 11, 28:59. Ouch. Lap 12 was when I hit the bottom. I was running a bit with Fatboy when I suddenly felt violently ill. Knowing I was about to puke, I decided to walk for a bit so my stomach could settle down. I actually really wanted to just sit down at an aid station and quit. It would have been so much easier. However, I knew I needed to get through the crappy parts because they're going to be even crappier at Western States and I was hoping that this would somehow make me a tiny bit more mentally strong. I was able to put down a gel and after a few minutes of walking, I started slowly jogging again. I finished that lap in a dismal 30:20.

Not necessarily feeling better, but just not about to puke, I was able to jog lap 13 in 29:00, putting me at 5:26 with 6.6 miles to go (if Todd had only run 4 minutes faster, I could have seen him finish). Obviously I had been far from my sub-5:40 goal for some time now. However, there were a couple other times I could still go after. #1, sub-6:34, my 50 mile p.r. from JFK in 2007; #2, sub-6:30, because, well, it's just one of those round numbers you want to beat; #3, sub-6:22, Fatboy's 50 mile p.r. (which would be sweet to do with Fatboy there running the race); #4, sub-Kanning (17-year old stud Michael had begun reeling me in the last few laps in his attempt at the under-18 national 50 mile record).

I was a little tired when finished, but man I look cool with my
Rudy Racing Red lenses and bright green Fleet Feet hat.

So with a few goals still to shoot for, I switched to my customary 2/3 Coke / 1/3 water for the last hour of the race. I seriously felt faster, but still only managed a 27 minute lap 14. That put me at 5:53. I grabbed my last bottle from Chris and went for it. 3.31 miles to go. Passing by the remote aid station, I took my only aid station water all day - mainly to say thanks to the volunteers. And I finally passed the awesome cheerleader guy on the trail for the 30th, and last, time. I gave him a high-5 and big thank you as I ran past. As I hit the pavement for the final mile, I knew I was going to p.r., go sub-6:30, and go sub-Kanning. However, I was still unsure about getting Fatboy's 6:22 p.r. I saw Fatboy right around that time (he was going the other way) and he shouted to me that I should just walk it in. I knew then that I had his p.r., too.

I was happy to finally reach the finish after 6 hours, 19 minutes, and 45 seconds. 7:36/mi. for 50 miles (although I doubt I ever actually ran any mile in 7:36...averages are weird like that). Four minutes later, Michael came thundering across the finish in an incredible 6:23:55. He's 17 years old...can you believe that!?!? Although he was 7 minutes off the national record, he was stoked to have p.r.ed by 26 minutes. Did I mention his age?? 17!! He told me he doesn't turn 18 until November, so he has lots of time to still get that record.

So I finished in an inconspicuous second place...somewhere between the fastest 50 mile time in the US in at least a few years, and the uber-17 year old. I was happy with that. It was cool to race against the current 50-mile stud and one of the future stars of this crazy little sport of ours. And obviously I found out that I can't fake a fast 50 miler off of marathon and 50k training.

Crewboy Chris and Fatboy headed out for the bell lap.

Not to be left out, Fatboy regrouped a bit, talked Chris into running the last 2 laps with him, and met his sub-8 hour goal with a mighty fine 7:56:45. If this race was using cross country scoring, with only the top 2 runners from each team counting, then SLUT (Sisters Little Ultra Team) easily won (don't you love the fictitious race-within-a-race that I make up?).

There was also a 50k going on at Jed that day and Chikara Omine blitzed the course in a super-fast 3:08. That's 6:04 pace, which is the pace I averaged at CIM. But he went 7.8 km farther. Yes folks, that's fast.

Complete results.

Monday, February 2, 2009

2008 Review, 2009 Preview

Yeah, this is about a month late, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

So, in 2008, I started 32 races and finished 30. In those 30 that I finished, I raced approximately 735 miles in 101 hours, 21 minutes, and 23 seconds. Being a math-guy, I even figured out my average pace was 8:16/mile. Considering the wide variety of races I did - long, short, fast, slow, hilly, flat, pr's, blow-ups, etc - I'm pretty happy with that pace.

I had some solid races last year: Vancouver Lake 1/2, Hagg, Miwok, Silver State, Dirty 1/2, Beamer 10k, Smith Rock 15k, McKenzie River, Lithia Loop, and Turkey Trot.

I had some bad races last year: BadAss, Way Too Cool, Horse Butte, Boston, TRT (dnf), and Tahoe 72 (dnf).

I had some great races last year: Wheatfield 1/2 (short course, but still great), Crater Lake, TransRockies (well, at least it was a great experience!), Bigfoot, Spokane Marathon, McDonald Forest 15k, and CIM.

Out of all of the highs and lows, my worst races were my two dnf's, TRT and Tahoe, and two of my best races came after each of the dnf's, Crater Lake and Spokane. The race right after a dnf has always been a good one for me.

Interestingly, most of my worst races were earlier in the year, the solid efforts were mostly in the middle, then my best races were in the last 1/3 of the year. And out of my best races, 3 were road marathons (Crater, Spokane, CIM), 4 were distance p.r.'s (Wheatfield, Bigfoot, Spokane, CIM), and even McDonald Forest was a huge break-through for me by going sub-60.

What's crazy about all of this is that I've considered myself an ultrarunner for the past 7 1/2 years. Heck, I even have 97 ultra finishes in that time to prove it. But ever since TransRockies, I've noticed that my leg speed has greatly improved and with that, my p.r.'s have dropped significantly in shorter races (marathons and shorter). Since TR, I've p.r.ed in the 10k, 1/2 marathon, and marathon twice. It's almost like TR helped push me through some invisible pain-barrier that I had been up against for some time. Of course, I have Hart to thank for helping me through that. I still have nightmares about him beating me up on the Hope Pass stage (and I even had a gusher-of-a-nose bleed to prove it).

Anyway, I've also come to realize that I do enjoy the roads. Don't get me wrong...running in the mountains with Sascha all day is the absolute best! But, roads are fun because I can get into a good groove and just run fast without worrying about where my feet are going to land. Actually, my absolute favorite kind of courses are the ones with variety. JFK comes to mind here. It's basically like a triathlon; it starts with about 15 miles on the brutally rocky AT, then a flat and fast marathon on the soft dirt of the towpath, and finishes with 8.5 hilly road miles. That kind of variety in a race is so much fun for me.

Whoah, a little off-track there.

So, I've decided that I'm going to put a few more road miles in this season. Yes, I'm still very much looking forward to getting super-muddy at Hagg, chugging up and down the relentless hills of the Mac, redeeming myself at WS, and hopefully even Death Racing. However, I also added in the flat-and-(hopefully) fast Jed Smith 50 mile, Run to the Sun (not flat, but 100% paved), another marathon p.r. attempt in Eugene, and possibly the Tahoe Marathon. I'm hoping the speed and efficiency I get from the roads will help with my trail speed, too.

We'll see on June 27.