Sunday, 17 August 2014

Leadville Trail 100 - How Many Second Winds Can One Man Have?

Photo: Caleb Wilson


Leadville was an amazing experience last year as part of the Grand Slam and I had a great trip to Colorado again, especially the two weeks of hiking in the mountains. The race didn't quite go to plan but I felt I got the most out of my legs on the day - both a result of last year's 100-milers. The fatigue has been lingering all year at Rocky Raccoon 100 and Western States 100 thanks to not taking a proper long rest after last season, but the plus side is that I really feel I've learnt how to adjust mid-race and maximize how the day goes, no matter what issues I have to deal with. Luckily it's an easy fix as I just need a little time off and won't be running a step for at least a month (mountain biking and hiking are another story).

Back to the race itself and it turned out to be something I'll remember for many years to come. It started off with a lot of similarities to last year. Firstly I led into Mayqueen aid station at mile 13.5 by a few seconds, just like 2013 (although I spent 45 mins with my headlamp on minimum since the battery went flat well before sunrise despite a full charge). Then I dropped to 9th by the top of Sugarloaf at mile 18. Back into 5th at Outward Bound aid station at mile 24.5 and into 4th just before Twin Lakes at mile 39.5. All identical to last year, plus Mike Aish was 20+ mins ahead in the lead which he did in 2013 too. It was just slower and the legs felt fatigued compared to last year.

There was a stunning sunrise over Turquoise Lake and a sunny day throughout which made for beautiful running conditions. I was behind my 2013 splits the whole way out but had a solid hike up the major climb of the day at Hope Pass, which ascends over 3,000ft to mile 45.5. On the way down to the turnaround at Winfield (mile 50) I squeezed past Zeke Tiernan to get into third, but then the race started to get really crazy.

Mike Aish had a huge 25 min lead over me at the turnaround and picked up my Grand Slam nemesis (and good friend), Nick Clark, as his pacer. Rob Krar took a wrong turn due to what must have been trail sabotage, costing him around six mins so he was perhaps 10 mins back from Mike. I would have gone the wrong way too but saw Rob heading back up the turn I'd have missed. That got re-marked in time for the next competitors but meant that Zeke caught up to me.

A quick turn-around and I picked up my first pacer, Brendan Trimboli, getting out of Winfield in 8:07, about 17 mins slower than last year. We saw Timmy Parr right behind Zeke but were mainly focused on power-hiking the crap out of the steep two-mile, 2,000ft ascent back up to 12,600ft after the rolling few miles from the aid station.

I felt much better by this stage and had accepted that my legs didn't have quite as much pep as 2013, but knew sub 17hrs was on the cards if I kept my head. The climb went well with a steady, fast power-hike that put a small gap between myself and Zeke. Then the descent was just as much fun as last year as I let myself go and caught up some time on both Mike and Rob, plus saw several hundred runners coming the other way who were really gracious and made it very easy for me to move past them. Brendan played a big role here by going 20ft ahead to warn that a runner was coming through (I'd been told in advance this was a key benefit to having a pacer on this section).

Amazingly I caught up to Mike just before Twin Lakes (mile 60.5), seemingly done for the day with swollen knees and quads. Last year I caught him walking at mile 67 to take the lead, so it looked like things continued to play out like 2013, but with the addition of Rob Krar ahead. Despite only half a mile to the aid station, I put five mins on Mike and assumed he'd be lucky to finish. How wrong I was!

Running through a XC section. Such a perfect sunny day. Photo: Brendan Trimboli


The 1,400ft climb out of Twin Lakes is more gradual than Hope Pass but steep enough to force me to hike almost all of it. It was also hot so my second pacer, Aaron Keller, carried some iced water to pour on my neck at regular intervals ('muling' is allowed at Leadville). I assumed the game had switched to a safe second place and maybe first if Rob faltered, but around mile 66, Mike Aish flew past me while I ran close to 8-min/mile pace on a flat section. By the Half Pipe aid station (mile 69) he was three mins ahead. How had he turned things around and could he sustain it for the first time in a race this long?

I kept moving at a very respectable pace but by Outward Bound (mile 75.5) he was over six minutes ahead, despite 'looking bad' according to many reports. I've learned that people can look like death in an ultra (eg. Nick Clark, who's famous for looking spent but continuing to move fast) and still run well, so I didn't pay too much attention to that.

A couple of rolling road miles took me to the bottom of the steep Powerline climb with my third pacer (I was spoiled with such a good crew), local Leadvillian, Dana Kracaw. I still had a solid uphill power-hike available and zoomed up, catching Mike a mile from the summit. This time I was sure he was out of it, but kept pushing the pace (I got the Strava CR for the section over Powerline to Mayqueen, showing I wasn't hanging about). Down the gentle downhill I ran sub 8 min/miles then heard Mike charging behind me. I pushed to go faster and zoomed along the jeep road but he still passed me and put about a minute lead on me by the turn into the single track. How did he keep coming back from the dead like this?

A few minutes into the technical single track I'd dropped my pacer, Dana, and caught up to Mike as he looked like he was bent over retching (I found out after the race he was taking his shoes off due to a blister!). Within the next two miles down to Mayqueen (mile 86.5) I gapped Mike by five mins and was pushing along the road section, not stopping at Mayqueen at all. Dana arrived a minute after me but I'd teamed up with Brendan again for the final section.

Last year I ran 1:57 for the Mayqueen to the finish split, basically the same as Matt Carpenter's CR split. I'd pushed myself to the brink because of a charging Nick Clark, although he had blown up right after the aid station and slowed considerably. This time I thought I'd secured second and had a tiny chance of catching the 30 min gap to Rob Krar if things went south for him.

I ran virtually every step along Turquoise Lake, pushing myself up the little rollers and certainly going faster than 2013. Then the short, sharp drop back on to the road and just 5.5 miles to go. The only problem was that Dana and Aaron were there with news that Mike was only a minute behind! He'd turned on the after-burners one last time and was flying at an unbelievable speed (or maybe not when you consider he's a 27-min 10k runner). I sped up as his crew plus mine cheered along the last flat section before the turn back on to the unrelenting uphill to the finish. He'd said on Powerline that his uphill legs were blown so I hoped I could remain ahead if I got to the climb and the last 3.5 miles first.

It was a full-on race with us both running close to 7-min miles and he caught me right at the turn uphill onto the steep first 400m uphill. We both settled into the fastest power-hike I've ever seen, neck-and-neck. As the gradient dropped to around 10% I started running, maybe 5 feet ahead of him. My watch showed 8-min mile pace and it felt hard, but he drew level and accelerated. I tried to match him but couldn't and had to drop to a more sustainable 9-10 min/mile pace, hoping he'd blow one last time. Afterwards he told me his split for that mile was just over seven mins!

As dusk turned to dark we approached the turn into Leadville and the switch back from a gravel road to asphalt, but Mike was around two minutes ahead. I couldn't see a way to close that within under a mile, especially since he was running, not walking. So I settled down into a slower pace to avoid the minor high altitude pulmonary edema issues I had last year (I succeeded) and ended up crossing the line in 16:41:38 (11 mins slower than last year), three minutes behind Mike and 32 mins behind Rob, who won in the second fastest time ever, 16:09. Mike's split from Mayqueen to the finish was 1:49:46, over seven minutes faster than anyone else ever. Considering how many low points he had that's just mind-blowing - Rob and I both ran around 1:58 for that section.

I wanted to end my season giving everything to the race, although I hoped I wouldn't feel so tired. Thanks to Mike I can walk (or limp) away with the satisfaction that I pushed to my limit on the day, wrapping up the season with a podium and becoming the first person to break 17 hours at Leadville twice. The podium's times were the 2nd, 6th and 7th fastest in history, so we certainly made a race of it. Zeke came in with his second best time on the course, in 17:35, and Dave Mackey was next after rallying for a negative split 100-miler to finish as the first of the Leadman competitors in the 100, in 19:10.

The women had a close race for first and second too, with Emma Roca running the first five miles in the lead with myself and Zeke before taking a bad fall. Emma and Liza Howard yo-yoed ahead of each other all day with Liza sitting as high as fifth late in the race. They finished with Emma in 8th overall in the third fastest time ever (19:38) and Liza just behind in 20:01. That must have been an epic battle too and I can't wait to hear more about it from Liza.

Full results here. Plus my Strava data here.

Thanks to everyone involved with the race as it was very well organized and seemed to deal with the overcrowding and other race management issues from 2013. It was another memorable, special day and I feel lucky to be a part of this sport.

Off season time:

Post-race with a super-tight jacket courtesy of Dana.


Gear:

Scott Kinabalu T2 shoes
UltrAspire handhelds
Drymax Maximum Protection Trail socks
Julbo Dust shades
Clif Bar gels (approx 40) plus other Clif products

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Update pre-Leadville

It's a week until my last main race of the year, certainly my last ultra, at Leadville Trail 100. Last year was so much fun with two weeks of Colorado fun, including seeing some of the Hardrock 100 course in the San Juans.

This year I didn't have the Grand Slam to deal with so I was able to fit in the Badwater pacing on the adjusted, non-Death Valley route (see write-up by Eric Spencer here) plus the San Francisco marathon three weeks prior to Leadville race day. That marathon is a race I love, especially with the section running over the Golden Gate Bridge and back. In addition, the local ultra community was out in force with some good banter on the start line with the likes of Alex Varner, Jorge Maravilla and Devon Yanko. A quick summary - I had a head cold but wanted to move my legs a bit faster than any time since Western States, so I ran a 2:43 negative split (1:22/1:21). Much more encouraging than my fitness pre-Leadville last year where I felt worn down with no speed at all. At a guess I'd say I could have run a marathon just under three hours at Leadville last year, so that seems like an improvement.

For the past week I've been staying in Leadville for the period pre-race (10,150ft), compared to Durango (6,700ft). I did get up higher for a few days last time, but this year I've already summited three 14ers at Mt Elbert, Mt Massive and Mt Sherman (see photos below). I also had a few days at 6,200ft at Lake Tahoe before coming to Colorado.

So on paper my preparation is better and I feel stronger and better adapted to altitude already, with another week left. Who know if that'll translate to a better run, but it feels good to be ready. A last minute addition to the field of Rob Krar means the course record is certainly under threat, plus Mike Aish has the potential to run around that time if he can nail a race this long and Zeke Tiernan returns after previously running one of the six sub-17hr times ever run on the course. The field may not be as deep as somewhere like Western States but at least one guy will nail it and run a very fast time.

Some photos from the past few weeks:

Tahoe sunset

Sunrise over Emerald Bay, Tahoe

Tahoe sunrise at Emerald Bay

View from Mt Tallac looking away from Tahoe

Echo Lakes, Tahoe


First day in Colorado, near Leadville at 12,000ft

Mt Elbert (tallest mt in Colorado) with Dana Kracaw and Alberto Rossi

Mt Massive from Mt Elbert

Twin Lakes on the Leadville course

Looking down at Leadville from Mt Sherman

On the way up to Mt Massive

Selfie on top of Mt Massive

View from Mt Massive

Telluride Valley from above

Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride

We're in an ultra boom right now. Even the construction industry knows it.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Western States 100 2014 - 6th

Just after the escarpment at mile four. Photo: Tanner Johnson


It always takes a couple of days to digest the emotions from 100 milers and that's the case again for Western States this year. Overall it was a beautiful day, not too hot (around 90F, compared to 100F+ last year) and punctuated by so many consistent, fast and smart runs.

I had a great week at Lake Tahoe pre-race with some excellent easy hike/run sessions, reminding me why I got married there back in August 2010.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe.

View from Mt Tallac, Lake Tahoe.

Running down Mt Tallac.


In terms of a race report, I'll summarize it briefly - I learnt stuff last year in the Grand Slam which meant I avoided any major problems, staying at a cruising pace all day with no real low points to finish 6th in 15:47. The heat training paid off so that ice in a bandana plus a water bottle full of ice was enough to keep me cool all day.

This time I was more excited than the previous four WS100s I've run - it just gets better and better. So the early mountain miles were spent chatting to a lot of the usual suspects, especially with Nick Clark at the front after he summited the escarpment first. I probably didn't need to go from outside the top 20 to leading from miles four to six, but the pace was casual and below the speed we all went last year. In fact, even Max King's leading time to Robinson Flat at 29.7 miles was a little slower than the lead pack ran there last year.

I was certainly happy with how it went, although I could tell early on that running Comrades four weeks earlier was still weighing down my legs. I'd hoped that going a bit easier at that race would have been fine, but I was greedy to include both and expect to be at 100% at WS100. It didn't make much difference, but I won't be doing that again next year, despite having such a great time seeing Ellie's incredible win. No regrets, but with major trail ultras getting more competitive every year, each takes more focus and respect.

I had a great time running with Team Montrail as my pacers (Matt Hart and Sean Meissner) as well as crew of Olivia Rissland and her boyfriend, Adam. Thanks so much to them for an amazing, flawless job.

Full WS100 results here and loads of info on irunfar. Big congratulations to all the finishers, especially Rob Krar and Steph Howe for their dominant wins.

My Strava file from the run. Plus Alex Varner's race report since we ran within a couple of minutes of each other all day long. He has the best trail etiquette in the business - he pulled off the trail to fart so it wouldn't poison me!

As a bonus I won the 2014 Montrail Ultra Cup with the Pixie Ninja, Kaci Lickteig. This mainly became a focus in the final miles when I knew I had to be close enough to Max King to avoid him leap-frogging me in the standings. In the end it came down to hardly and time or positions and could have gone either way.

Kaci Lickteig and myself with a huge-ass cup. Photo: irunfar.


Gear:

Scott Kinabalu T2 2.0
Clif Bar Shot Gels (x50) and Bloks (x2)
UltrAspire Handheld Bottles
Drymax Maximum Protection Trail Socks
Julbo Dust Blue Shades
Mission Athletecare Enduracool Multi-cool

Photo: Tanner Johnson

Photo: Ultrarunner Podcast

Photo: irunfar
At the river for a swim with Bryon Powell and Matt Hart. Photo: mojoscoast

Monday, 23 June 2014

Welcoming Ellie Greenwood to the Sharman Ultra Coaching Team

Ellie winning Comrades 2014. Copyright MMPhotoSA


I'm really excited to announce that Ellie Greenwood is joining the Sharman Ultra Endurance Coaching team. Ellie needs no introduction as a runner, having won almost everything out there, including Comrades and Western States. Her focused training and smart race tactics make her almost unbeatable in races, while her smiley demeanor is legendary. So now she can pass on that experience to others to allow people to maximize their running potential, however an individual chooses to define that.

As well as her stellar personal achievements, Ellie has given numerous talks to runners and has the USATF Fundamentals of Coaching qualification. Ellie uses the philosophies and tried-and-tested methods I've developed through Sharman Ultra to provide the best advice and highest levels of personal contact in the online coaching business.

In honor of Ellie joining the team, Sharman Ultra also has a new website, so check it out at www.sharmanultra.com.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Western States Predictions Based on Strava Vert



Like a lot of other runners, I like Strava and the stats it produces. So, for the Bay Area guys with a shot at top 10 (mainly based in Mill Valley), who did the most vert and mileage in their build up to WS100? I guarantee there's little relationship between this and where they actually finish, but I thought I'd have a look anyway. So this is a prediction that's certain to be inaccurate (except through fluke)...so I suppose it's not that different from most predictions out there.

These figures are year-to-date up to the morning of Sat 6/21, a week before race day and only include runs with GPS data for the vert in Strava. They don't allow for a million things that will affect performance on the day, not least periods of injury (like Matt, Jorge and Chikara have had recently).

Dylan Bowman - 316,693ft over 1,695.4 miles

Ian Sharman - 247,379ft over 1,817.8 miles

Alex Varner - 234,770ft over 2,103.9 miles

Gary Gellin - 200,686ft over 1,205.1 miles

Brett Rivers - 185,387ft over 1,207.5 miles

Matt Laye - 145,627ft over 1,269.9 miles

Jorge Maravilla - 107,359ft over 641.9 miles

Chikara Omine - 90,558ft over 1,249.4 miles

In summary, DBo will win the Bay area face-off. Or not. These stats just pique my interest since fitness is only about 50% of the battle on race day and training quantity isn't the same as quality. These guys all know what they're doing and I hope they all have great races (just maybe a tad slower than my race, ideally).

Also, here's what the WS100 race course looks like on Strava.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Comrades Marathon 2014 - All About Ellie

Ellie in her moment of victory.


It's three years since I was last in South Africa for Comrades and I almost forgot how much I enjoy the event and surrounding atmosphere. This was my sixth run, my fourth 'down run' and it was the first time I hadn't focused 100% in my training on peaking and nailing the 89.3km road course. So I felt much more relaxed for starters and managed to treat it as a surprisingly fun 80-90% effort training run for Western States 100, four weeks later. I've done that with marathons to use them for training in the past, but I wasn't sure how it'd work out for something much harder like this. Judging by how I'm usually a cripple after Comrades, but am walking normally today, I think I got the balance right.

With around 4,000ft of ascent, the down run isn't exactly flat or purely downhill, but it does have a net loss of about 2,000ft. My Strava file gives a good idea of what it's like.

However, the real story was Ellie Greenwood's spectacular win. I've been lucky enough to help Ellie with coaching in the build-up, although what made the difference on the day was undoubtedly her iron will to push to her maximum.

Ellie had a lot of pressure on her with local media expecting her to break the decade long Russian winning streak. Last time Ellie ran was 2012 when she ran one of the fastest times in race history in 6:08, but eight-time winner, Elena Nurgalieva, ran 6:07. Having had injury issues through 2013, Ellie was very hungry for this race (a massive understatement). She set off at a good pace, settling into third while the Nurgalieva twins went off fast like always. She was four minutes back at 45k in 3:07, which was well within striking range.

Unfortunately Ellie wasn't feeling great and lost a little time over the next 15k to be as far back as 8 minutes. For most people racing against such dominant and successful siblings, it'd be easy to accept a solid third and a very respectable finish. But that's not the way Ellie races.

I was lucky enough to see the action first hand, although I didn't expect to. Per the plan, Ellie should have stayed ahead of me the whole way by a large margin since I was aiming for 6:30, which was far slower than her expected time. So it wasn't a great sign when I caught her at 69k with just under a half marathon to go. However, I'd seen Ellie running down the huge Fields Hill as I approached her and she was clocking off a solid pace around 6-6:15/mile and was moving well. Just as I was going to give her words of encouragement she briefly walked and I couldn't help but run past, still egging her on but with no conversation.

I kept looking over my shoulder to see if Ellie was moving well but lost sight of her within a couple of miles and hoped she wasn't cramping or injured. At 7k to go I rapidly came upon the twins who looked exhausted and kept walking uphills. If only I could have let Ellie know that they were spent then I know she'd be spurred on, but I suspect the crowd told her that as she ran by anyway.

Just 3k from the end I noticed the lead vehicle for the women was visible behind me, which it hadn't been since I passed the twins. It was approaching me fast despite the fact I hadn't slowed and was still moving the same speed as all day long. My first thought was that Elena must have found a second wind and was somehow closing fast to make sure she stayed ahead of her sister. Yet that car was approaching me rapidly and I couldn't see how she'd have turned that around so much. With 800m to go the car and lead motor-bikes went by then a green bullet shot past instead of a Russian in red. It was Ellie and she was closing with a steely focus that only champions have. I cheered and shouted out to her but she didn't even look to her left due to her single-mindedness of purpose. Looking behind I couldn't see any women so knew she'd won and achieved her biggest running ambition.

Running into the stadium I got out my phone and aimed to take a shot of her crossing the line but she was charging so hard that she finished before I rounded the final bend into the finishing straight. It was inspiring and exciting to run in behind her while Chariots of Fire played through the loud speakers. I must have been almost as excited as she was then I crossed the line and congratulated her before she was whipped away to TV interviews and drug testing.

It was one of the best running experiences of my life to cap a really enjoyable personal run throughout the day.

Durban beachfront.

Nedbank elite team, including Camille Herron, Amy Sproston, Ellie Greenwood and several others who got gold (including the first two men, just out of shot)

The start pre-dawn.

Finish selfie just before crossing the line.

Ellie receiving her prize on the big screen in the stadium, plus live on national TV.


My own race:

I'd aimed for around 6:30 but didn't intend to push since I didn't want to jeopardize Western States. So 6:18 with a negative split (3:12/3:06) and a 5:40 through 50 miles was really encouraging, especially since I've never felt that good in a race before. It also makes me hopeful that one day I can come back and run a gold medal for top 10...which required a 5:40 finish time this year.

For those who haven't considered this race yet, I couldn't recommend it highly enough. Here's a more detailed race report with plenty of stats about the race from my 2010 run.

Gear:

Scott AF Trainers
Clif Shot Gels x6
Julbo Dust shades

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Final Western States Build-Up

View down the initial climb out of Squaw at WS100.


I felt a little sad to miss the 70 miles of Memorial Day weekend training runs for Western States, but have been in the UK for a couple of days in transit to Comrades in South Africa. The whole year so far has been about preparing for that classic trip from Squaw to Auburn and I've even decided to take Comrades easy (relatively), despite the fact I love the race and have given it my all five times already.

I've been getting in more vertical than previous years and heading up Mt Diablo as much as possible. Plus working on speed since there are so many ridiculously fast guys on the trails now that 5-minute mile pace isn't particularly quick to them. Lake Sonoma 50 was a good example of these speedsters really performing on hilly trails.

A week ago I took part in the Bay Area carnival that's Bay to Breakers, although I did a bit too much speed work during the week and didn't have much in my legs on race day. Still better than the last time I ran it, so the 43:41 for the 12k course wasn't a disappointment. However it was slower than the some of the other local guys who'll be racing WS100, given one of the centipedes (12 runners leashed together) had Matt Laye, Brett Rivers and Alex Varner...in fact Alex managed to jog 5:30s in a Daft Punk helmet. Scott Dunlap wrote it up very well with plenty of photos of the drunken costumes, plus those with a lack of costume.

With Comrades just five days away I'm planning on relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere without caring too much about how the race goes. I've always wanted to do it purely for fun and that should work better as a quality training run with a lot of downhill pounding. Instead I can live the race through Mike Wardian and Ellie Greenwood, both aiming to win after coming back from injuries. Once I get the last long haul flight out the way I'll be excited like a puppy being fed (trust me, I see that level of excitement twice daily).

Then it's just four weeks 'til the Big Dance. Plenty of time for a few more Diablo summits and also one on Mt Tam with the SF Running Company boys.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Mt Diablo 50k



This weekend included the start of the Skyrunner World Series with the Transvulcania VK and Ultra, plus the last qualifier for Western States 100 at the Ice Age Trail 50. These races attracted a large portion of the world's trail ultra talent for good reason and led to many amazing performances and records. However, in-between peeking at updates for these races on Twitter I took advantage of yet another great Bay Area ultra, this time from the revitalized Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR).

Under previous race management I ran the Mt Diablo 50k back in 2010 and this largely affected the decision to move to Walnut Creek (which is at the base of the mountain) in 2011 and again last year. In fact, running on Diablo has been the centerpiece of my training over recent months so I knew every tiny change in gradient in the race. The double 25k loop which summits twice totals 8,900ft of ascent, making it one of the harder 50ks locally (Skyrunning's Speedgoat 50k has 11,600ft of ascent for comparison).

After a purposefully hard April with plenty of races, some at harder efforts than others, I wanted to see whether that training was paying off. When I ran it before it took 5:09 but the loops were 2:26/2:43 so I aimed to be a little more consistent while keeping things at a sustainably hard effort. Since only one person broke five hours since the race started in 2002 and many fast runners have had a go over the years, that was my target. Yet the more important part of the plan was to keep the lap times similar to practice pacing - running a fast 50k but fading near the end would tell me nothing useful about my fitness for 100 milers.

At the start I bumped into Brett Rivers (fresh off taking my Diablo Challenge 50k record last month) and Dylan Bowman (just a week after his strong win at TNFEC Bear Mt 50 Miler) who were squeezing in their eight hours of trail work for Western States before the deadline by volunteering. There were only about 10 runners in the 50k event, partly because PCTR is still getting back on its feet and many more were running the 25k or 8k distances. If this event is anything to go by then that will soon change and PCTR, like all the Bay Area trail race companies, should flourish. 

So I headed up the Back Creek Trail and was passed after a couple of miles by a guy I didn't know who ran every step of the ascent. I ran perhaps a third of it but used power-hiking efficiently enough to be only 30 seconds back at the summit in 1:26, then took the lead immediately on the descent. Loop one ended in 2:15, which was quicker than I expected, but I know several runners who started with that kind of time in previous years but missed five hours overall by slowing significantly. 

Loop two was similar and I got the pacing about right as temperatures heated up slightly. The summit came a little slower, arriving after 1:29 on the loop (3:44 total). Then the familiar descent was still fun with my legs behaving and feeling surprisingly unbattered. My final time was 4:33 with loop splits of 2:15/2:17, taking 15 mins off the 2009 record. Overall, it went better than expected and the record was a bonus plus a great confidence boost. However, I think that record could go much closer to four hours if some of the best mountain guys turned up motivated.

Full results are here and thanks to the race directors and volunteers for another excellent day on the trails.

Gear:

Scott Kinabalu T2 2.0 shoes
Clif Bar Shot gels and bloks
UltrAspire handheld bottles with new 2014 nozzles
Drymax Trail Max Protection socks
Julbo Dust shades

Monday, 28 April 2014

Race Weekend Again - Big Sur Marathon

Bixby Bridge, halfway along the marathon route


I'm happy to get through the past three weekends uninjured and feeling pretty good overall. First was Lake Sonoma 50, then the Boston Marathon and finally the Big Sur Marathon. As well as enjoying three spectacular and incredible races, I wanted three sets of tough runs to host fitness for the summer 100s. Even by running Lake Sonoma at a comfy pace, it was still long and tough enough to be a perfect work-out. Then two marathons at fast (for me) but not quite 100% efforts worked on the speed when tired, especially by not taking backing off on the training much between races.

It's a fairly high risk strategy but over the past few years I've gained a good idea of where my red line is for injury and over-training. Plus with the proliferation of super-fast runners moving to ultras and succeeding, it's more and more important to work on speed - just look at the top men at Lake Sonoma this year, all with very fast marathon times.

Big Sur was as beautiful as ever along the hilly California Highway 1. Usually there's a fierce headwind but this time the air was fairly calm. I felt fast on the flats and downhills but the fatigue showed on the ascents, as can be seen in my highly erratic pacing, especially in the second half of the race. However, 2:41 following the 2:39 at Boston was very positive, particularly since it involved a slight negative split.

Much as I'm happy with the past few weeks and feel fitter and stronger, it doesn't remotely compare with Mike Wardian's win at the North Pole Marathon followed by a couple of fast short races the next weekend, then Boston (2:23) and a win at Big Sur (2:27). He set the masters' record for Big Sur as well as breaking his own record for Boston to Big Sur (that's an official thing which a lot of people enter) with 4:51 combined time. I'd say that sets him up well for a string run at Comrades in South Africa in a month...however, former Comrades winner and race team manager for Nedbank, Nick Bester, tweeted to Mike:

"Congrats on your marathon-just to (sic) close to @ComradesRace to take on the big dogs of Ultrarunning in the World."

In general I'd agree, but not in Mike's case.



The race was also a great chance to bump into plenty of ultra runners, both existing and new friends (all Bay Area races are like this now), plus Bart Yasso from Runners' World and the fastest American female marathoner ever, Olympic medalist Deena Kastor. Both are extremely friendly, approachable and have a lot of time for runners from all backgrounds, even those who want cheesy photos - just look at my grin!


How to look like a giant - stand next to a female pro marathoner!


Here are some scenic shots of the Big Sur race route, showing why the race sells out so fast. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers, especially Stephen Butler who looked after the elites and made life easy for Amy to enjoy the trip down as a spectator too.








Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Running For The Experience - Boston 2014

Newton Hills. Photo: Josh Niforatos.


At the moment I'm in the middle of the key part of my build-up for Western States 100 by running races for a few weeks in a row. Not all-out, 100% efforts because that would either lead to injury or burn-out. Instead it's a balancing act of getting in runs that provide quality training for endurance, speed and hills.

On top of that there's no reason the races can't be iconic, inspiring and exciting. That's why I picked Lake Sonoma 50 a week ago with a world class field combined with a great route and organization. Another obvious choice for me was the Boston Marathon, especially after the bombings last year. I've run Boston three times before and loved it, but as soon as last year's events unfolded I wasn't the only one to swear to sign up for the redemption and pride edition in 2014.

A road marathon like Boston is excellent for working on sustained speed and making the easier sections of a 100-miler much easier to cruise (yes, there is method to my madness). However, there are moments that are worth experiencing even if they don't fit in with a perfectly planned build-up to a race. After all, in a few years when I look back at my running career I want to reminisce about memorable events and trips in a lot of different styles (road, trail, jungle, desert etc).

The global running community and city came together in the expected, and genuinely up-lifting, show of spirit at Boston, as captured by Scott Dunlap in his blog. It will remain one of my favorite memories for years to come, plus the extremely fast runs of many ultra runners were enough to make me want to train harder and more intelligently. Here are a few speedy ultra runners:

2:19 Uli Steidl (1st Master)
2:21 Matt Flaherty
2:23 Matt Laye
2:23 Mike Wardian
2:23 Blue Benadum
2:32 Alex Varner (a week after fourth at Lake Sonoma despite slowing a lot in the second half)
2:41 Magdalena Lewy Boulet

I aimed for a hard effort but kept on training as normal in-between races so was happy with 2:39 with a 1:17/1:22 split. Usually I'd call that bad pacing but I wanted to test my legs and it felt like a low 2:30s marathon would have been feasible with a taper, which is as fast as I've ever been. I bumped into fellow ultra coach, Jason Koop, at the start and we ran the first half together before I backed off, then I caught him up near the end and we crossed the line waving and playing up to the crowd.

So for those wanting to run Boston one day, this year was a timely reminder of why this race is special. I know I'm fortunate to be able to pick and choose my experiences rather than relying on lotteries or unobtainable entry criteria (except the Olympics). Thank you Boston and congratulations to all the runners, especially Meb's amazing victory and Rita Jeptoo's third win and course record.

Full results here.

Gear:

Scott Race Rocker 2.0 shoes
Clif Bar Shot gels
Drymax Max Protection socks
Julbo Dust shades